March 30, 2014

Trading Places

John Landis, 1983
A bet made between two commodities investor brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) strips rich executive Louis Winthorpe (Dan Akroyd) of his lavish wealthy livelihood and cleverly places it in the hands of bum Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) to prove that if a destitute man is given opportunities he will/will not succeed.

Trading Places puts you in a time machine and brings you back to the 1980's. The coke-fueled, horribly clothed, occasionally racist (black-face and all) 1980's. The nostalgia is delivered early on when you get thrown into a dance party where the once-funny and once-edgy Eddie Murphy is trying to keep his new digs in order. The film feels dated, there's no denying that. The biggest example of this is shown when you are smack in the middle of what feels like an antiquated stock exchange with handwritten orders flying through the air and enormous computer screens taking up space. There is an absence of any remarkable cinematography at work. Some of the slapstick comedy is distracting. But it does deliver an original story with some brains behind it. It also delivers some pretty good performances by Akroyd, Murphy and a very young (and it feels weird saying it, beautiful) Jamie Lee Curtis. The whole premise of rich whitey growing complacent and bored in their own wealth, making a one dollar bet on a man's utter demise is completely diabolical but also completely engaging. You sit patiently waiting for the Duke brothers to get their comeuppance. The whole rags to riches / riches to rags dichotomy plays out a bit too swiftly. Billy Ray morphs into the successful executive overnight, and Louis deteriorates into a complete degenerate just as rapidly. Perhaps it's difficult to really showcase a more colorful arch when you only have 119 minutes to work with, and you need to carry the story along. The bottom line is it all falls into place, and the satisfying ending is probably the highlight of the entire film.

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