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Case Number 02312: Small Claims Court

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Trading Places

Paramount // 1983 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 17th, 2002

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Happy Holidays Collection (published December 31st, 2011), Trading Places (HD DVD) (published August 16th, 2007), and Trading Places: Special Collector's Edition (published May 28th, 2007) are also available.

The Charge

They're not just getting rich…they're getting even.

The Case

It's big laughs in the big city when Wall Street tycoon Louis Winthrop (Dan Aykroyd, Spies Like Us) and street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy, Vampire In Brooklyn) literally trade places! The Duke brothers, Mortimer (Don Ameche, Cocoon) and Randolph (Ralph Bellamy, His Girl Friday), are rich commodities brokers who take on a one dollar bet—Randolph believes that they can take a poor schlep off the street and make him successful while simultaneously making a rich power player a down-on-his luck criminal. Mortimer, on the other hand, believes that success in life is due to heredity, not opportunity. To no one's surprise, the pawns in their game are the hapless Billy Ray and Louis! As Mortimer and Randolph systematically dismantle Louis' career, ruin his relationship with his fiancée, and put him out on the street, they take Billy Ray and give him a new home, a fancy car, and a job at the offices of Duke & Duke. Suddenly, Billy Ray finds himself in the lap of luxury while Louis finds himself on the streets without a penny to his name! With the help of a warm-hearted hooker (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies) and Billy Ray's street smarts, Louis will attempt to regain his old life and exact revenge on the conniving Dukes!

I was hoping for a lot more laughs when I saw the names "Eddie Murphy," "Dan Aykroyd," and "John Landis" roll through the beginning credits of Trading Places. So what went wrong? Certainly back in 1983 Trading Places may have been a real gut-buster. Unfortunately, in 2002 this is a movie that just doesn't cut the butter (or bread, or margarine) for laugh-out-loud comedy. While the film has its moments—Eddie Murphy has a grand time with his one-liners and Dan Aykroyd has a lot of fun with his character—the fact still remains that it's just not as sharp or entertaining as some of director John Landis' (The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London) other big-budget comedies. What makes the film more than passable are the performances by veteran actors Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche (who would show up later as an in-joke for Landis and Murphy's superior Coming to America). Crackling with sarcasm and a despising attitude toward the poor, both men bring a needed weight to a script that often feels padded and insubstantial (did we really need a gag about a goofy gorilla in love with a man in a gorilla suit?). I did find myself laughing during a few spots, including a humorous scene where Murphy pretends to be healed of blindness and immobility in front of two annoyed New York cops. In other words, all is not lost on this film—though it is a far cry from a great movie. At his peak Landis knew how to churn out charming, often dastardly comedies with some of the day's hottest stars. While Trading Places is often regarded as one of Landis' better efforts, the fact is that Three Amigos! and Spies Like Us offer up more chuckles per minute. Or maybe this is just what happens when you're a die hard Chevy Chase fan like me.

Trading Places is presented in a decent looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Paramount has done a fair job at making sure the print is clear of most imperfections (i.e., dirt and scratches). While there are a few places where the picture looks a tad worn or soft, overall I was happy with how bright and bold the colors and black levels appeared. The audio mix is presented in a newly produced Dolby Digital 5.1 remix in English. Eh. While there are a few spots where the track picks up (including the scenes taking place on the exchange floor and Elmer Bernstein's classically-tinged music score), overall this is an only passable track that supports the film well, and little else. Also included on this disc are a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, a French Dolby Digital Mono track, and English subtitles. You '80s fans out there are going to be mad as a caged gorilla (err, see the movie) when you find out there isn't a single solitary supplement to be found on this disc! Paramount, what gives? Not even a theatrical trailer? Sigh…

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
• English
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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