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Trading Places Review

Surely, I could live life as Dan Aykroyd. I may not filter my vodka through diamonds, but that can change with the right amount of funding. He seems to live a pretty cushy life, especially in Trading Places, as he swaggers and saunters round as a stockbroker or trader, whatever big shots in New York do. I’m not entirely sure what he does, the feverish state of agony I watched this in was a tad distracting, but I persevered, coughing, retching and crying my way through this amiable comedy that looks to bring us a classic switcharoo of a con artist and a man paid to be a con artist. Bit of social commentary there, keep up everyone. 

There are some undeniably funny moments throughout Trading Places, I’m just not entirely sure there’s enough of them to warrant a wholehearted recommendation. Having Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy quite literally trade places leads to some comical encounters for the two of them, but the flimsy storytelling for why this is happening, and the lack of reasoning for it, is the most baffling piece of the puzzle. Perhaps director John Landis wishes to comment on and criticise how those in power and with abundances of cash can ruin lives without feeling responsibility, a cold-hearted look at how money corrupts, and how we’re better being rich of mind and knowledge, than of cash in hand. Sod that, though, I don’t think Landis has any sort of message to send, this light and breezy comedy looks to do nothing but entertain. 

Decent performances are at the heart of Trading Places, they make up for where the script can sometimes lack in punch. Murphy and Denholm Elliott in particular, the two have such superb chemistry with one another. The rather obvious changes Elliott has from serving the snooty Louis Winthorpe (Aykroyd) to the laid back and kinder Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), is an obvious change that never quite goes anywhere. The romance that blossoms between Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis’ Ophelia is bizarre, random, but the feel-good kitsch this sort of film demands from its script.  

Trading Places is a harsh film, not just rude to the people within it, but insensitive to the cultures and caricatures they look to depict and dissect. To some degree, I do believe Landis is intentional in this portrayal, and the grating look he gives of either leading man has fragments of truth buried in rather primitive, dense portrayals that smack of uninspired nonsense. Still, it’s a fine film, a lot of fun at times and not too taxing on the mind. It’s not an essential classic by any stretch of the imagination, but Aykroyd and Murphy carry the burden fairly well, with Curtis and Elliott rounding off the piece with some surprisingly graceful performances that, whilst one-note, do hit the sweet spot of enjoyable, comedic banter. You can’t ask for more than that.  

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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