Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Trading Places

Film #348


A snobbish investor and a wily street con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.

Year 1, Day 348

BEFORE: Back in time to another classic, Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd (last seen in The Blues Brothers) makes it’s way to the marathon. While not necessarily one of the biggest films ever, I do consider it one of those films I should have seen by now.

AFTER: This is a film about polar opposites, and more importantly, a reversal of roles. Dan Aykroyd plays snobby rich man Louis Winthorpe and Eddie Murphy plays the easy-going homeless guy Billy Ray Valentine. What comes out of this pairing is not only a funny film, but one with a great story.

The best thing about Trading Places is that there aren’t any jokes per se. You laugh because of who these characters are and what they do. And the reason this film succeeds is because of it’s simple objective: show two differing people and then switch things up. Winthorpe, and the rest of the rich elite, are introduced as the stereotypical greedy, heartless men that are often seen in film. Part of me even thinks that this portrayal is a bit of an exaggeration, almost satire-like, on the idea of rich people (more on that in a moment). At the complete opposite is Valentine, along with a few lowlifes introduced later on, who are depicted as beggars and crime-driven. Again, perhaps a bit exaggerated, but accomplishing it’s goal. Both characters, Valentine especially, are instantly identified and therefore can start entertaining us quickly. Much of the humor comes from our associations with both types of people, what we expect to happen, and what does happen. One example also serves as a major plot point early on in the film. Winthorpe accidentally bumps into Valentine on his way out of members-only club, and after Valentine apologizes (unnecessarily) and picks up Winthorpe’s suitcase for him, all Winthorpe can do is accuse him of harassment and assault primarily because he’s black and looks sketchy. It’s funny because it’s outrageous, yet something that would happen in real life.

Keeping with this theme of exaggeration, there are some places where it’s too… exaggerated. Most places it works, and in fact, without it Aykroyd and Murphy’s characters wouldn’t be nearly as great as they are. But every once and a while, it seems out of line and gives the film a falseness that is otherwise nonexistent. All examples I can think of relate to the rich people, the Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) in particular. The way they act just doesn’t feel right and it feels forced. In the member’s-only club when Winthorpe arrives with payroll checks, Randolph Duke’s desire to perform his experiment and his fondness towards Valentine, and the reveal about the Dukes’ bet. All are examples of not necessarily bad scenes, the reveal about the bet is quite amusing (especially with what happens after), but they don’t match the genuineness of the rest of the film. Characterization and plot points alike don’t fit with the rest of the film and it forces you out of an otherwise engrossing film.

Trading Places has the look and feel of an old-time comedy. But it’s also a film that’s withheld the test of time. Despite an antiquated style and a story that’s been done many times since (the basic role-reversal that is, not necessarily the trading places aspect), this film holds your attention throughout and feels fresh. Some parts are overdone (something that may be attributed to this old-style, or even been on purpose) and these feel out of place. The good news is, these are few and far between and the overall feeling you’ll be left with is one of amusement and amazement - amazement at some great characters placed in exciting situations.

RATING: 4 out of 5