I really like Trading Places. This is a fun social satire that you may never grow tired of because the story is timeless. The acting is superb and engaging, with skillful, quick interplay between Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. Other notable cast members include the curvaceous Jamie Lee Curtis great as a hooker with a heart of gold, the scene stealing Denholm Elliot is a joy to watch as Coleman the butler, with Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche perfect as the rich, heartless and calculating Duke brothers.
Every time I see this movie I catch more of the subtle jokes and laugh at the obvious ones. It’s an old story line, of rich subbing for poor, but with a twist due to great writing and terse direction. It’s fast paced. You’ll never have a chance to get bored, even if you’ve seen this movie as many times as I have.
This is great comedy. It’s not a sitcom trying to cram a stupid premise into a 24-minute time slot. It doesn’t deal with racial prejudice in the USA, but wraps itself around the quirks of the lead characters who happen to be of different races.
Murphy and Aykroyd are perfect foils, characters possessing high IQ mixed in with contrasting personalities and lifestyles. They react to each other in ways that’ll make you soon forget you’re watching a movie, that we’re somehow seeing the real lives of two men from behind a curtain. They handle their role switching well, balancing who they were with what they have been, learning new skills they never suspected they had.
Aykroyd is perfect as a snooty, white preppy commodities brokerage firm manager, while Murphy is brilliant as a black street hustler. They’re equally matched, and that’s the fun of it all.
Brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke are very rich men who own Duke & Duke, an extremely successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia.
Mortimer and Randolph are engaged in argument about nature vrs nurture, each having opposing viewpoints. To settle the matter, they devise an “experiment” whereby they’ll take the lives of two people, one poor and the other rich, switch them, and see what develops. But who to choose?
They get their answer on the way to their club. A street-wise black hustler named Billy Ray Valentine accidentally bumps into their firm’s prissy managing director, a well-mannered, snooty and educated Louis Winthorpe III.
Valentine apologizes to the disheveled and fearful Winthrope, trying to return his briefcase. But a freaked out Winthorpe yells for the police, accusing Valentine of stealing it. The cops chase Valentine into the club, capturing him at gunpoint.
Mortimer quickly recognizes the opportunity. He wagers $1 with his brother to test their theory, betting that if Winthorpe and Valentine were to change places, the street hustler would soon become just as good at predicting commodity market trends as Winthorpe.
Being rich, the Dukes quickly make it happen. They publicly frame Winthorpe as a thief, drug dealer and adulterer using their sleazy security professional Clarence Beeks to set him up. Drugs are planted on Winthorpe by a corrupt cop when he’s arrested. He’s fired from his job, his bank accounts are frozen, credit cards canceled and he’s locked out of his Duke owned townhome. Coleman, Winthorpe’s decent butler, is forced to cooperate with the plan and deny knowing him. Winthorpe’s fiancee and friends reject him.
While Winthrope is experiencing these horrors, the Dukes bail Valentine out of jail. They tell him that the reason they did so is because they operate a program for the underprivileged. They give Valentine Winthrope’s home, limo, butler and job. They expect him to fail, but the street-smart hustler quickly learns the complicated world of commodities trading achieving success and respect. He acts more and more like a well-mannered, confident businessman leaving his street ID far behind.
Meanwhile the homeless Winthorpe is befriended by a soft-hearted prostitute named Ophelia who believes his story and strikes a business deal with him. He can stay at her place but must give her a five-figure fee once he regains his status and money. Things continue to go bad for him, while Valentine’s continue to improve.
Valentine earns money for the Dukes. But the experiment begins to unravel during the firm’s annual Christmas party. Valentine calls the Duke’s attention to a payroll check for $10,000 to a Clarence Beeks. They take it and tell him not to worry about it, because Beeks is their operative on special assignment for them.
Dressed as a disreputable street Santa, Winthorpe crashes the party, stuffing foods into his dirty Santa suit. He sneaks into his old office and attempts to plant drugs in Valentine’s desk. But Valentine catches him as Winthorpe yells for the Dukes. The Dukes are appalled at Winthrop’s appearance and condition. Winthrop escapes brandishing a gun he bought in a pawn shop.
In a washroom unaware that Valentine is there smoking a joint he saved from Winthrope’s tossed stash, The Dukes discuss in detail how they performed the experiment. Pleased with themselves, they couldn’t care less for the stress and pain they’ve caused, settling their $1 wager.
Astonished, Valentine overhears every word and seeks out Winthorpe.
But a drunken Winthorpe weaves his way home. At the end of his rope, he attempts suicide by first trying to shoot himself with a gun that jams but fires when he tosses it away. He stumbles back to Ophelia’s place and ODs on pills. Ophelia, Coleman and Valentine nurse him back to health. When Winthrope wakes he thinks he’s dreamed it all, until he spots Valentine, then leaps from bed to strangle him. Valentine chokes out that Dukes did it. He tells the story and Winthrope is both shocked and angered.
As he recovers, Winthrope sits on the floor cleaning his shotguns, bent on revenge. Ophelia spots Beeks On TV, identifying him as the dude who paid her up to play a joke on Winthrop in frnt of the jail that cost him his fiancee. Beeks is transporting a secret report on orange crop forecasts. Winthorpe and Valentine recall large payments made to him by Duke & Duke, quickly realizing that the Dukes plan to grab the report and corner the orange juice commodities market. They see an opportunity for revenge as Valentine says that the best way to hurt rich people is to make them poor.
The plot thickens. The plan is to switch briefcases and recover the stolen crop report. They boards Beeks’ train, disguised in bizarre outfits. Coleman is an Irish priest, Ophelia a Swedish backpacker, Valentine is an exchange student from Cameroon complete with fly swatter and Winthrope is a Haitian Rastafarian pot smoker. They figure that with a wild New Year’s Eve costume party happening on the train, they’ll fit right in.
Not so. But Beeks sees through their scheme and marches them at gunpoint to a baggage car, intent on killing them. But he’s knocked out by a caged gorilla in the car. The others quickly disguise Beeks in a gorilla costume and lock him in the cage with the real one.
In a darkened parking lot, a disguised Valentine gives the Dukes a crop report that Winthrope altered which states that the year’s orange crop will be low. Then Valentine and Winthorpe go to New York City commodities trading floor with Coleman’s and Ophelia’s life savings to complete the plan.
As the Dukes’ man buys, Winthrope and Valentine wait patiently until the price drops. They they buy everything earning a huge profit while the misled Dukes have committed all their holdings incurring a substantial $394M loss on margin.
The Dukes confront Valentine and Winthorpe who mockingly explain that they had a wager that they could make the Dukes’ poor. A grinning Valentine collects $1 from a smiling Winthorpe.
The exchange president arrives, demanding payment from the Dukes. When they can’t pay, he puts the Dukes’ seat up for sale and the Dukes realize that they’ve lost everything. Randolph collapses holding his chest from a heart attack. While Mortimer stridently screams at the manager, begging him to turn the exchange machines back on.
The gorilla and the hapless Beeks are loaded onto a cargo ship bound for Africa. The amorous gorilla thinks Beeks is a female.
Victorious, Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia, and Coleman enjoy a luxurious tropical vacation complete with a huge yacht and servants fetching whatever they want.
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