Re-Watch: Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places
Director: John Landis
Writer: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Cast: Dan AykroydEddie MurphyJamie Lee Curtis, Ralph BellamyDon Ameche, Denholm Elliott, Giancarlo Esposito, Frank Oz, Bo Diddley, James Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis

Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) was born on the sunny side of life and has proven to be a quite successful trader for the Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche). Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) on the other hand barely scrapes by with crooked schemes. When the Duke brothers bet on whether or not it’s the circumstances or nature that make a man what he is, Louis and Billy Ray quickly find themselves in each other’s shoes. Louis’ reputation is completely destroyed when he is found with a sex worker Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) hired to set him up, loses his fiancée, his home and his job – the latter to Billy Ray. In the end, Louis has nobody but Ophelia and – surprisingly – Billy Ray to make things right again.

I used to watch this film as a kid as well, though certainly not as often as Scrooged, probably because I am not so much of an Eddie Murphy fan and never was. But since the cinema showed the two films as a double feature, I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately even with the nostalgia bonus, Trading Places barely worked for me at all.


What I liked best about the film were the Duke brothers. Not only the performances by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, which were amazing, but mostly how the film calls them out for being manipulative and so removed from reality that they feel it’s okay to play with people’s lives as it suits them without any regard for anybody else. Which is a surprisingly harsh (but not unfair, imo) view of rich, powerful people and that cynicism works perfectly well. Unfortunately, it’s not only lacking from the rest of the film, it is undermined by the ending, where Billy Ray and Louis basically trade places with the Dukes, which is counted as their big win.

Also lacking from the film: women. I mean, Ophelia is great, and Jamie Lee Curtis is even better, but in the end she’s a sex worker with a heart of gold, there to serve as a highly sexualized price for Louis, so he doesn’t have to end up with the only other woman in the film: his stereotypically “rich bitch” fiancée.


Toward the middle the film loses a lot of steam and becomes pretty boring for a while. Things are not helped with the slapstick on the train that culminates in a rape joke that is referenced several times. Haha, a man is getting raped by a monkey, this is funny, LOLZ. Another thing that’s very funny? Racism! Eddie Murphy’s portrayal of an African student is completely racist, which is not even mentioning yet that Aykroyd turns up in blackface.

It did work fine for a while. But then the film completely derails. Maybe that’s the reason I could barely remember aynthing about it from my childhood. I’ll try to forget it now again.


Summarizing: best left in the 80s and not dragged into modernity.


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