Blu-ray Review: Trading Places

Trading Places is a movie that just hasn’t aged well. I’m not someone who is offended by jokes, but there’s just a lot here that falls flat and just doesn’t work. The movie was made in 1983 and was the second movie Eddie Murphy starred in, following 48 Hrs., and was also one of the earlier starring vehicles for Dan Akroyd as well. Both of them do a solid job in their respective roles; however, the story and characters involved just have so little substance or growth over the course of the film that it arguably hurts the movie even more than the lack of laughs do.

The story is basically whether or not a person is hereditarily able to succeed in life, or if they’re simply a product of their environment. Akroyd plays Louis Winthorpe, a successful stock broker who has everything going for him both at work and at home. Not only is he consistently impressing his bosses, Mortimer and Randolph Duke, who own the brokerage firm Duke & Duke, but he’s also engaged to their grandniece.

Everything is going great for Louis until one day when he bumps into Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) on the street. Winthorpe falls to the ground and screams out for help, accusing Valentine of attempting to rob him even though Valentine – a street hustler who resorts to fairly unethical means to garner sympathy and donations – is simply attempting to give Louis back his briefcase that fell to the ground when the two bumped into one another. Police chase Valentine throughout the club that Winthorpe just left and is arrested.

It’s here, however that Mortimer and Randolph make a wager that if the roles were reversed and Valentine was given the opportunity and lifestyle that Winthorpe has attained that Valentine could be as successful as Winthorpe is at running their company, and at the same time, if Winthorpe was stripped of all his money and belongings, that he would eventually resort to crime in order to survive. So the two quickly work to frame Winthorpe, have him arrested and take away all he has (he’s living in a brownstone owned by the Duke’s), and then turning around and giving those same belongings to Valentine who has now been hired on to replace him.

The idea for an interesting and funny story are there, but it’s all greatly mishandled and just never delivers on any level. Valentine is a hustler on the street, but he also proves to be a nice guy when given all the luxuries that cause people like Winthorpe to look down at people. He’s the only character in the movie that the viewer can actually get behind, though that’s not a high bar in this film.

The biggest ball dropped – almost to an illogical level – is Winthorpe’s character. Here’s a guy that acts like a pretentious, mildly racist, and utterly unlikeable rich snob at the start of the film, and by the end of it he’s still pretty much all of the above, only maybe slightly, slightly less pretentious. This is a character that should have grown the most. He’s someone who should have lost everything and at the very least realized things like, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t act like someone of colour who I accidentally bumped into was trying to rob me?” Instead, he’s still an unlikable jerk the entire movie, and he learns nothing by the end of it.

It leaves you to wonder what the entire point of the swap was in the first place? Movies like this usually have the characters learn a bit about the other’s situation, where they both grow from the experience in the end. Instead, here we just have a two-hour movie (which sometimes feels like three) where nobody really changes at the core, and to make matters worse, it’s not even funny. Sometimes a weaker story can be forgiven if the movie is at least consistently entertaining; however, here, it’s just awkward, out of place jokes that were likely even offensive back then and just don’t hold up at all today.

I also have to mention the supporting work of Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Ophelia, a prostitute who’s hired to help in the downfall of Winthorpe (albeit unknowingly) and then takes it upon herself to give him shelter while he tries to take back his life. In return for her help she wants money, as she has a retirement plan to get out of her line of work. She’s a character that actually has a bit of depth, and she has smarts, but those smarts aren’t used at all. She’s basically used as eye-candy instead, and ends up being the love interest of Winthorpe in what has to be one of the least compatible romances ever.

Nothing about Winthorpe over the course of the movie proves that he’d fall for someone like Ophelia, and frankly, she deserves a lot better. It’s so forced and unnatural mainly because of the lack of growth of Winthorpe’s character. This was yet another opportunity for Winthorpe to learn something and grow as a human being, but instead, it’s yet another missed opportunity and the relationship they’re supposed to have by the end of the film just feels completely out of the blue (even though it’s obvious it’s going to happen because clichés) and incredibly out of place.

In the end I just can’t recommend the film, as there are too many good movies out there to waste so much time on this one. If you’re a fan of the movie and just want to know if the Blu-ray remastering is worth buying, I’ll get into that more below, but yes, this is the version of the film to own. However, if you missed this one and are just trying to catch up on old Murphy, Akroyd or Curtis movies, I’d give this one a skip, as by the end of this complete comedic misfire I was wishing someone had traded places with me.

Blu-ray Video and Audio Review:

My thoughts on the movie aside, this movie looks fantastic in this 1080p remaster. There’s the natural, filmic grain that’s expected from the older films, but these remasters are so well done by Paramount that they often make the film’s feel as though they’re pulled directly from the theater print and into your home. If you own a previous Blu-ray of the film and are a fan of it, upgrading to this remaster release is a no-brainer.

The audio gets a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless update and it matches nicely alongside the upgraded picture. The dialogue is clear, the score and sound effects all balance out wonderfully, and the surround aspect works great, especially in the larger party and city settings.

Special Features:

There are two new features added on to this Blu-ray release; however, one is a trailer, so we’ll just say that there’s one bonus feature and the rest are brought over from the previous Blu-ray release.

Filmmaker Focus: John Landis on Trading Places This new feature sees Director John Landis looking back on the movie, talking about the original script for the film, casting, tidbits about various scenes and more behind-the-scenes talk. It’s no commentary, but it’s something new for fans to watch, at least.

And as mentioned above, there’s a theatrical trailer included here for those interested.

The extras carried over from the previous release are as follows:

Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places This is a feature that’s just under 19-minutes in length and sees the cast and crew talking about the movie, filming and so forth.

Trading Stories – This feature is 8-minutes in length and showcases press junket interviews from the 1983 U.K. opening.

The Deleted Scene – There are a few deleted scenes to be found here for those who like those.

Dressing The Part – This is a six and a half minute feature that sees costume Designer Deborah Nadoolman talk about her work on the film.

The Trade in Trading Places This is a five and a half minute featurette that sees commodities brokers discuss the business side of the film, as well as delving into the ending, which is understandable enough when watching, but also not clear enough to really allow audiences to get as excited watching it play out as was likely expected.

Industry Promotional Piece – This is a short film made with Akroyd and Murphy to help explain what the movie was about.

Trivia Pop-Ups – This is a feature that runs throughout the movie, giving little bits of insight to the viewer in the form of pop-up dollar bills that give some information about different aspects of the movie.

Paramount Pictures Presents Trading Places. Directed by: John Landis. Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod. Starring: Dan Akroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliot. Running time: 116 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Blu-ray Released: Dec 1, 2020.

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