Due to the later careers of the two main stars (Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd), some may call it their guilty pleasure, but John Landis’ (American Werewolf in London, Thriller) Trading Places is undoubtedly a brilliant idea and a brilliant film. Certainly one of my favourites from the 1980s.
The film is impeccably cast with leads Eddie Murphy as down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine and upper-crust snotty executive Louis Winthorpe III played by Dan Aykroyd, and finely supported by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, as successful brokers Mortimer Duke and Randolph Duke, Jamie Lee Curtis as street-wise prostitute with a heart of gold, Ophelia and Denholm Elliot as long-serving butler, Coleman. Also, look out for an early cameo from James Belushi.
The comedy and indeed the two co-leads may not have aged exceptionally well, but the satire behind the story remains topical and startlingly relevant. Much in the same vain as Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with the addition of perfectly timed four-letter words, Trading Places is a commentary on class and race in America in the 1980s as much as reflection how little times have changed.
The film is about two beyond-wealthy (in the pre-billionaire days) yet bored brothers (Ameche and Bellamy) who pose a tempting wager, to swap and sell-out a well-to-do finance guy in their employment (Dan Aykroyd) with a homeless conman (Eddie Murphy) just to observe how they react to their to their new status and surrounding, and to win a one dollar wager.
The real strengths of this film is the engaging acting and characterisation. They are given the chance to develop, with each getting adequate screen time to show us their individual quirks and peculiarities, so to make them and the humour ever more natural and believable.
Trading Places is very inventive and this is shown throughout the film, and in particular the film’s climax involving a commodities scam, a New Year’s Eve party on a train and a gay gorilla.