There’s not much like a John Landis late ’70s or ’80s comedy. Animal House, Blues Brothers, Coming to America, and of course Trading Places all fall into that category. The latter is fondly remembered for many a reason, though it doesn’t comes off perfectly. This is still one of the better comedies of the era.
Eddie Murphy is in top form here as Billy Ray Valentine, playing the smart-mouthed character he used to specialize in. His scenes as a street bum are few as he’s forced to adjust to a life of style, replacing a yuppie Dan Aykroyd at the top of a company due to a bet. In Trading Places, there simply isn’t enough of the loud, arrogant, cocky Murphy to go around. His transformation from bum on the street to executive happens in two scenes before it’s complete.
Aykroyd is forced to take the slower route, losing all of his money and learning life lessons in a way only movies can allow. His downfall is also entertaining, while changing his performance from intentionally over acted to natural. This is definitely the harder of the two roles acting wise, and even for a light comedy, Aykroyd handles the material with care.
The various gags throughout all hit their mark. Landis paces the material without running out of possible laughs for the final few chapters. In fact, that’s when the movie comes in full force, with a finale loaded with great lines and sight gags that undoubtedly make this a Landis comedy. Supporting roles from Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche, and Ralph Bellamy don’t hurt. They’re all charismatic and entertaining, taking things to the extreme with great effect.
While the eventual payback that gains Murphy and Aykroyd’s characters millions can be confusing as it comes with little explanation, the audience is too involved to care. Trading Places is amongst the best of the Landis comedies. It hits enough of its gags, and never stops pacing itself. There isn’t a dull moment to be had.
This isn’t a movie that looks like it was shot in 1983. Not only is the print in remarkable condition for its age, the transfer is beautiful. It’s sharp and clear, while colors remain consistent throughout. Black levels can appear murky and details are somewhat flat. Most notable is the final shot on the beach, which can rival a modern film. If the entire movie looked like that, this would flawless.
Obviously, there’s not much surround action here. The compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track remains in the front channels for most of the running time. A few scenes, two of which contain rain, do manage to produce some decent ambience with their surround work. This is a flat, low fidelity, unmemorable experience otherwise.
Released in a special edition across all formats, the disc provides a decent selection of extras. Insider Trading is an excellent making of piece with numerous interviews. It’s a shame it only runs 18 minutes. Trading Stories are a collection of interviews produced for promotional purposes that last eight minutes.
One deleted scene comes with a commentary. The scene is shown on TV typically to make up for the time lost due to content editing. Dressing the Part is a look at the costumes for six minutes.
The Trade in Trading Places interviews various traders and what they do. Industry Promo Piece starts with an introduction from Landis, and is a last minute ad done for Show West when the film was only half done. Plenty of improv in included here during its four minute run. Finally, a trivia track can be run alongside the film.