John Landis' 1983 comedy Trading Places takes a well-known premise (this is, for all intents and purposes, a re-worked version of The Prince And The Pauper) and effectively brings it into what was, at the time of its release, the modern day. The story introduces us to Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) and his brother Mortimer (Don Ameche). These guys are rich. VERY rich. And as very rich people tend to get bored, it would seem, they decide to amuse themselves with a little bet that winds up throwing the lives of two dissimilar men into disarray. Their intent is to figure out how much of your success in life comes from your environment and how much of it comes from genetics.
It's here that we meet Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), an ivy league educated commodities broker employed by Duke & Duke who would seem to have it all, and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a homeless man who makes his living husting people on the street and committing petty crimes. Winthorpe is thusly setup to take the fall for some trumped-up charges, at which point he's knocked off his pedestal fast and hard. With him out of the way, Billy Ray is more or less shuffled in to replace him. He not only gets his job, but he gets all the perks that come with it: a huge home, a fancy car and even his own personal butler, a man named Coleman (Denholm Elliot). Winthorpe, meanwhile, falls in with a kindhearted prostitute named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), the streetwalker that was hired by help take him down. She is much smarter than anyone really seems to realize. As Billy Ray gets used to his new lot in life, Winthorpe, with some help from Ophelia, decides to set out and make things right and prove his innocence, but of course this inevitably pits him against the Dukes…
The cast really makes this work. An early role for Eddie Murphy, Trading Places is nevertheless a pretty fine spotlight for his comedic abilities. He makes the most of this part, he's quite funny and shows both a quick wit for delivery and great timing as well. He and Dan Akroyd have great chemistry here in the scenes that they share together. Already well-established at this point, Akroyd is very well cast as the snooty Wall Street guy, contrasting very effectively with Murphy's streetwise crook. Supporting work from Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliot is quite good too, they definitely have their share of moments in the film, but Murphy and Akroyd remain the main draw for the picture.
The film also has a welcome social conscience. Not to overly politicize a comedy made more than thirty years ago, but the movie does make some interesting observations about the role of race in society and upward mobility as well as about the very rich's tendency to be out of touch with much of what the working class or the country's impoverished have to deal with on a daily basis. Landis is careful not to let the film get preachy here, we're never beaten over the head with the film's message, but it is there and it is part of what makes the movie effective.
Production values are quite solid here. There's a good score and really nice cinematography. The New York City locations are well-photographed and the movie does a good job of recreating for the silver screen the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, and how it can be so different for its populace depending on their social standing and job opportunities.
More importantly than any of that, however, is that Trading Places is very funny. Sure, it's a bit predictable and more than a little preposterous, but it's funny, occasionally even hysterical. It exploits its premise and holds our attention throughout nearly two-hour running time with ease.The DVD
The 25th Anniversary Edition of Trading Places arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This would look to have been taken from an older master, seemingly the same one used for the 2007 Blu-ray release. While it definitely rises above what DVD could provide, fine detail never really ‘pops' the way better, newer HD transfers tend to. The image is more than watchable but it is a little flat. Colors look okay and black levels are decent. There are no noticeable compression artifacts. There isn't much in the way of print damage to note, but some obvious and welcome film grain is evident throughout. Again, not a terrible transfer by any stretch, but not a mind-blowingly great one either.Sound:
Audio options are provided in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound as well as in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 options. It would have been nice to have the original mono track included here, or a lossless option of some sort, but that didn't happen. Still, the 5.1 mix is fine. Surrounds are used almost exclusively for the score and occasional effects placement, with dialogue remaining almost entirely up front in the mix. The track is clean, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion, and the levels are fine. Removable subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.Extras:
All of the extras on this disc we've seen before, starting with Insider Trading: The Making Of Trading Places which is an eighteen-minute featurette put together mainly out of cast and crew interviews. There are a few fun behind the scenes stories told here, it's interesting enough that fans will want to check it out if they haven't seen it already. The eight-minute Trading Stories is similar, in that it features some cast and crew comments recorded at a press conference held in the UK some years back, while the seven-minute Dressing The Part takes a quick look at the costume design that was needed for the feature. In The Trade In Trading Places takes a five-minute look at the ending of the film with some input from different commodities brokers who do this sort of thing for a living.
Aside from that, we get a three-minute deleted scene with an intro from the film's producer, a four-minute short promo piece that was clearly made to advertise the film back in the day, and the option to watch the film with a ‘pop up trivia track' enabled. Menus and chapter selection are also included.
As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie included inside the case alongside an insert card with a download code for a digital copy of the film. This release also comes packaged with a slipcover.Final Thoughts:
Trading Places holds up well, it's clever and it's funny and it makes great use of a very strong cast. Paramount's Blu-ray reissue is just that… their old disc repurposed with new packaging, recycling the older transfer, lossless audio and extras. If you don't have the film and want to own it, this is a perfectly fine way to do just that, but if you've got the older disc there's absolutely no reason to double-dip on this unless you're a slipcover festishist. Recommended on the strength of the film.