Trading Places (1983) Directed by John Landis. With Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Trading Places teams Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy – the former a snobbish commodities broker, the latter a Philadelphia street bum – who swap places due to a cruel bet by two senior investors (Ameche and Bellamy). Recognised, as a classic 1980’s comedy, I put forward that it hasnt’t aged all that well.
With Mozart accompaniment, we begin by establishing the city of Philadelphia, complete with Rocky Balboa statue, after which we’re introduced to the condescending regal highlife of Dan Ackroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III. After a misunderstanding that lands him in jail, old windbags Ameche and Bellamy pay the bail for Eddie Murphy and decide to prick Ackroyd’s lordly bubble by giving Murphy his job, house and personal butler. A penniless Ackroyd finds himself shamed by his colleagues and ditched by his girl, framed as a drug-dealing nobody.
The screwball silliness of the central idea invites the audience to assume a certain mindset, which is no preparation for the onslaught of racism and sexual exploitation that periodically occurs. There are at least four, “oh no they didn’t!” moments littering the script, which is either a product of its time (I hate that excuse) or just plain nastiness. Not to appear overly prudish, but there’s random female nudity casually scattered around for the boys to enjoy, to the extent that it seems like Jamie Lee Curtis is only in the movie to show us her tits.
I’d argue that Trading Places isn’t anywhere near as clever or funny as most people remember. There’s no doubt over Murphy and Ackroyd’s screen talents, and at turns, they both shine brightly, particulary Murphy who was riding the crest of a wave of huge popularity coming off the back of his cinematic debut in 48Hrs. Try as they might, they can’t save the film from its own increasing stupidity, especially the badly misjudged and sloppily filmed final act sequences featuring a horny gorilla and a room full of men waving paper around, yelling “buy-sell” for what feels like 15-minutes. Dumb, and were it not for Murphy, not much fun. 2/5