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Monday, 19 December 2016

Retro Review: Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places
Cast: Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche
Genre: Comedy
U.S Box Office Gross: over $90 million 

Plot: A small-time con-artist gets to switch lives with a big-time stock market maven. But their reversal of fortunes is just a cruel joke perpetrated by two bored mega-rich brothers, as part of an idle bet. When the truth comes out... the consequences are sheer comedy gold! 

'Switching Places Has Never Been So Much Fun'

A rags-to-riches and riches- to- rags, fish-out-of-water tale and one that put Eddie Murphy on the map, as well as helped elevated Dan Ackroyd's status on Ghostbusters a year later, Trading Places sees pampered socialite, Louis Winthrop III and so-called pauper street hustler and con artist, Billy Ray Valentine via Murphy switch places, after two elderly guys brothers Randolph and Mortimer, who out of boredom wage a $1 bet that they can successfully pull off this scheme. Not soon after do we see the after-effects this reversal of fortune has on Billy and Louis: Louis is in hell, misery and the one fending on the streets after being framed for petty theft and drug possession. To make matters worse, he discovers his bank account and financial assets have been frozen, his girlfriend Penelope had just left him and he finds himself locked out of his apartment, whilst Billy Ray lavishes and revels in his newfound status (even grabbing hold of Louis's butler) and ends up being just like Louis - spoiled, arrogant. At one scene, Louis even brandishes a gun and starts threatening people, whilst dressed as Santa. 

Not long after his debut on 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy pulls off another wise-cracking & at times hilarious performance, not to mention turns in the star performance of the whole film. Letting loose his outlandish and at times, potty-mouthed humour, Murphy's own motormouth antics make Billy Ray a somewhat likeable and redeemable character, who otherwise, would have been perceived in a much more negative light. Dan Ackroyd was exceedingly good as Louis and as a foil to Murphy, who comes across on screen as being more empathetic as the film advances, whereas Jamie Lee Curtis is the foxy hooker with the heart of gold, Ophelia who eventually falls for Louis. The trio, along with Louis's butler then come together to exact their revenge -, and boy is revenge sweet?!

For all of John Landis's terrific direction, it is the performances that make this film a true eighties comedy classic: Dan Ackroyd is perfectly cast as the almost stiff-upper-lip rich boy, who sees his role-reversal being both a bad thing, as well as a good thing to happen to him, whilst Eddie Murphy's Billy Ray recognises that being rich isn't all that it is cracked up to be, yet sees through Louis's troubles and when he finds out he is being stitched up, alongside Louis, he puts his feelings aside and helps him teaching the two brothers a lesson they'll never forget. 

From the big Black guy in prison who goes ''Yeah!'', Louis disguised as Santa getting drunk and stuffing a ham in his trousers, to Louis, Billy Ray and their friends heavily disguised as foreign passengers on a train, this film has no shortage of feel-good and amusing moments, as well as plenty of foul language, most of which comes from Eddie Murphy. 

Though not technically a Christmas film, the main story of Trading Places is set during or around the Christmas period in Philadelphia and the whole materialistic and wealth aspects of this film definitely resonate and make far more sense, in light of the whole 'Christmas is a time of giving, rather than receiving' thing, and with that, it is a particular type of Christmas comedy film. Another thing I noticed is the fact that Louis is a White guy and Billy Ray is a Black, African American and whilst some will say their characters and their plight may perpetuate racial stereotypes, I don't think this was done intentionally and with means to offend. Although some may be taken aback by Dan Ackroyd in Blackface. 

The comedy is also not of the farcical kind, rather there is a point, meaning and reason as to why the characters say the things they say and behave the way they do. Yet for all of the comedy, it is at times a subtle and yet also frank and straight to the point dig at traditionalist themes, proving that whatever an affluent, wealthy person can do, one mustn't write off a pauper and what s/he has to offer. 

This is a social comedy set in a world of business with humour that is virtually accessible for anyone and the theme of nature versus nurture and through his encounters with Ophelia and Billy Ray, though they hail from a different social class to himself, Louis sees his bond with these characters developing and strengthen over the course of the film.

Final Verdict:

Trading Places isn't a Christmas film per se, but it is most definitely one I'd sit through over the festive period. A comedy that operates as a social commentary on the contrasts between rich and poor and a whimsical, entertaining film with broad humour, it virtually succeeds on both levels. Showing both sides of the coin, Trading Places is rightly one of the best films to come out of the 1980s and one that doesn't only stand up by today's standards, but that its themes, issues about wealth, race, class, about money buying happiness and of it ruining one's happiness make this a comedy that not only has a lot to offer but a lot to tell and show for it too. 

Right down to the performances by SNL stars Eddie Murphy & Dan Ackroyd and Don Ameche, Ralph Bellemy and Jamie Lee Curtis, Trading Places also has a great plot and narrative that gets better as the film advances, in addition to interesting & funny characters and comedy that is equally as good as the rest of the movie.

Without argument this is John Landis's best film, for me; this is hilarity with a point and something to say, & it is a film not to be missed. 


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