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TRADING PLACES (director: John Landis; screenwriters: Timothy Harris/Herschel Weingrod; cinematographer: Robert Paynter; editor: Malcolm Campbell; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Denholm Elliott (Coleman), Dan Aykroyd (Louis Winthorpe III), Ralph Bellamy (Randolph Duke), Don Ameche (Mortimer Duke), Eddie Murphy (Billy Ray Valentine), Avon Long (Ezra), Robert Curtis Brown (Todd), Nicholas Guest (Harry), John Bedford-Lloyd (Andrew), Tony Sherer (Philip), Kristin Holby (Penelope Witherspoon), Clint Smith (Doo Rag Lenny), Paul Gleason (Clarence Beeks), Jamie Lee Curtis (Ophelia), Alfred Drake (President of Exchange), James Belushi (Harvey), Bo Diddley (Barney); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Aaron Russo; Paramount; 1983)
Preposterous lighthearted one-joke comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Landis (“The Kentucky Fried Movie”/”The Blues Brothers”/”An American Werewolf in London”) indulgently directs this preposterous lighthearted one-joke comedy that channels the well-worn theme used by The Three Stooges and“The Prince and the Pauper”of heriditary vs, environment. Even a talented cast, with Eddie Murphy in top form in his second film, can’t overcome the tiresome premise of a man of privilege forced to trade places with a low-life street hustler.Though it has some comic moments, that soon gives way to tedium as it loses its screwball comedy format. As a satire on capitalism or genetics, it has surprisingly little bite despite pretending to say something about the business world and the social classes. It should appeal mostly to those clinging to the simple-minded populist notion that they can skewer the elites in a general way, as it modestly scales its aspired low heights with slick but witless dialogue and fails to register any moral complexities. The setting is a snowy Philadelphia during Christmas.

Two scheming prejudiced, wealthy and elderly brothers ofDuke & Duke Commodities Brokers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy & Don Ameche), make a scientific wager of one dollar to see if their firm’s stuffy financial wizard Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) can survive if forcibly reduced to poverty and is replaced by a loudmouth black con man, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), and if the low-life street hustler could actually replace Louis as a stockbroker whiz for the firm. The framed Louis, a WASP, loses his club admission to the elite Heritage Club, his luxury townhouse, his British man-servant (Denholm Elliott), his bluebloodedfiancee Penelope (Kristin Holby, model for Ralph Lauren ads), his socially upper-crust friends and his job. A newly richly attired and limo driven Billy Ray, now takes over the house, the servant and the job.

Jamie Lee Curtis has a bit part as a hooker with a heart of gold. There are cameos by Bo Diddley as a pawn broker, comedians Al Franken and Tom Davis as baggage handlers, Jim Belushi as a New Year’s Eve party person in a gorilla suit, and puppeteer/director/actor Frank Oz as the policeman taking inventory of Winthorpe’s personal property.

The popular film, crassly appealing to the crowd’s basest instincts, insultingly tell us you are better off being rich than poor. It was well-received by critics and the public upon release, and some today even consider it a classic. Its populist message might also remind some of an updated Frank Capra vehicle, but such sentimental hokum was a turnoff to me.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”