WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I wanted a special edition release of Trading Places so badly, I could taste it. This classic 80s comedy is somehow beyond criticism in my mind: I grew up with it, caught it countless times on cable through the years, and it has become a member of that rarified group of films that I hold in high esteem no matter what. Unfortunately, Paramount has decided to release Trading Places as a barebones DVD, dashing my hopes for a collection-worthy artifact of this terrific comedy.
Fabulously snooty Louis Winthorpe III (a perfectly cast Dan Aykroyd) is a filthy rich commodities broker in the employ of Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). The heartless Dukes have amassed millions upon millions of dollars in shady trading and are now so bored with their business lives that they spend their time engaging in nasty wagers that mean peanuts to them but can hold dire consequences for their targets. Case in point: They decide to ruin the life of the laughably snobbish Winthorpe and "replace" him with street bum Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy in perhaps his greatest role). The Dukes' motive? To test whether genetics or environment account for success. The results of the wager, on both sides of the coin, are often side-splittingly funny. Aykroyd is hilariously over the top as he descends to new levels of depravity, and Murphy is wonderfully deadpan, suspicious about his sudden rise to the top. Before long, with the help of gorgeous hooker Ophelia (a frequently unclothed Jamie Lee Curtis) and Coleman the butler (a deliciously understated Denholm Elliot), Winthorpe and Valentine join forces and exact their revenge against the evil Dukes.
It's difficult for me to look at Trading Places with an impartial eye. Sure, some scenes—particularly the later scenes on the train—go for broader humor than what came before. Sure, some of the humor is way out there in over-the-top John Landis territory. But Trading Places gets so much right, and layers the comedy on so many levels, that you do a lot of forgiving. This is one of my favorite comedies.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents Trading Places in an anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Trading Places is by no means a vibrantly colorful film with striking cinematography. It's more invested in having a good time than showing off a dazzling palette. True to the film's look, the transfer seems washed out and dull. That being said, detail is pretty good, reaching to a moderate extent into backgrounds, but the transfer is a bit soft overall. The print itself is in surprisingly fine condition (except for an alarming first few minutes, in which dirt and speckles abound).
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc offers a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is impressively open across the front soundstage. Voices come across accurately, if a tad thin. Music fares adequately, although fidelity seems to be fading. Surround activity is minimal, but I noticed some effects here and there—so sparse that any activity is startling. And this film is certainly no subwoofer powerhouse. You also get the original 2.0 track and a French mono track.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Oh, what a missed opportunity. This classic comedy deserves far more than it gets with this movie-only DVD. Where's the commentary? Where's the new documentary? Where are the new interviews? Some of this material has already been recorded, so why not include it? This disc doesn't even contain the film's original theatrical trailer. Devastating.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
A very funny movie, but a truly disappointing DVD. Paramount has underestimated the fan base of Trading Places, delivering a blah bare-bones disc at a premium price.