Most breathing Americans who have cable (and besides Chris' parents, who doesn't?) have seen at least part of Trading Places, usually while surfing channels. Some viewers, ostensibly clicking their way from Comedy Central to the Discovery Channel, have inexplicably been sucked into watching it, thereby losing precious minutes of their lives. In all honesty, Trading Places isn't a bad movie, but familiarity breeds contempt, and boy are we familiar with this film. 1980's mainstream comedies have never been our forté, and we've been inundated with this one, so a little acrimony may not be misplaced.
Perhaps the best thing to say is that Trading Places is most famous for being the movie in which Jamie Lee Curtis finally bared her breasts, long after her early horror-film days. Typically, a horror actress' "assets" are a matter of public record long before they move on to Hollywood comedies like Trading Places.
Joining Curtis in this movie are Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, who play Louis Winthorpe III and Billy Ray Valentine, respectively. Winthorpe is a hot young Turk in the stock world, quickly rising in the Duke & Duke firm, and set to marry the rich and pretty Penelope Witherspoon. Despite his wealth and knowledge of Wall Street, Winthorpe leads an extremely sheltered and naive existence. Valentine, on the other hand, lives on the streets, faking various handicaps in order to better support himself through panhandling.
Aykroyd & Murphy.
Enter the Duke brothers, of the aforementioned Duke & Duke financial firm. After a brief encounter with Billy Ray, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) make a bet to settle their long-standing "nature vs nurture" argument. They arrange for Winthorpe and Valentine to (here it comes) trade places by framing Winthorpe for theft and drug possession and then cutting him off from his financial resources. Once Winthorpe is out of the way, Billy Ray is brought under the wing of the Dukes and given Winthorpe's house and job, where he flourishes.
Winthorpe, on the other hand, flails about miserably. Further interference by the Dukes causes the breakup of his engagement to Penelope, and Louis is subsequently taken in by Ophelia (Curtis), the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold. Luckily for those so inclined, she's also a hooker with a heart of gold who takes her top off in a couple of scenes. Ophelia promises to help Louis in return for money once he regains his financial footing. Louis vows to seek his revenge against Billy Ray, who (he thinks) took his life away from him. Of course, Billy Ray eventually discovers what happened and, realizing that the Dukes will soon boot him out now that the bet is over, decides to ally with Louis in getting even with the Dukes.
"In another movie, I played King Kong."
Trading Places is undeniably funny, in that low-brow sort of way that director John Landis favors. Aykroyd brings just enough befuddled dignity to his character that his downfall is amusing, and Eddie Murphy relies on his usual methods of exaggerating urban black man stereotypes combined with snappy patter. That the two are then combined makes the film even more humorous. Unfortunately, this is marred by a certain subplot involving an amorous gorilla, which qualified this film for our Spring 1998 Film Series. Still, Trading Places reaches certain levels of humor that Aykroyd and Murphy would reach only occasionally later in their careers. Curtis, fortunately, still had films like A Fish Called Wanda ahead of her.
Anthropologists probably shouldn't watch this film. First of all, the film offers what would seem to be a definitive answer to the raging debate between which molds character: nature or nurture, genetics or upbringing. The real answer is probably some of both, but Trading Places rather cavalierly suggests that it's all environment. And then there's the whole bit about gorilla nookie... Without getting too technical here, despite the fact that your average gorilla weighs much more than a human, when compared to humans in certain other anatomical respects, gorillas aren't exactly Dirk Digler. Or even Pee Wee Herman. The reasons for this are actually quite fascinating, but we know that five-year olds read our reviews, so we'll spare you the explicit details.