Ah, the days before Eddie Murphy was a total primadonna.
With Eddie Murphy’s career in a constant state of decline the past ten years or so, it’s hard for me to remember a time when moviegoers actually liked him. It’s hard to remember the Trading Places/Coming to America era when you’re deluged with The Nutty Professor II and The Adventures of Pluto Nash and…(gulp) Norbit. It’s hard to see the really good among the field of really crap movies Murphy’s put out in the past few years.
It’s also hard to remember a time when Eddie Murphy looked like he was having actual fun making comedies, instead of watching him sulk and storm off at the Academy Awards because no one gave him an Oscar.
Trading Places is the story of two very different men — the poor, thieving Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) and the wealthy, pretentious Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) — who have their places in life switched by the morally lacking Duke brothers, who own the commodities firm that Louis works for. The Duke brothers are at odds. One argues that Louis has gained his wealth in life through his breeding and birth, while one argues that the only thing preventing Billy Ray from being where Louis is would be the nature of his place in society; that is, among the lowest classes. Together, they scheme to ruin Louis while elevating Billy Ray to test their theories — all for the bet of precisely one dollar.
Trading Places is a curious movie to watch nowadays. I actually stopped and restarted the movie about three times over. I love Dan Aykroyd, but with my prior experience with Eddie Murphy, I found this one draining and exasperating to sit through with regards to him. (Which is odd, considering I love Coming to America, which features a minor cameo by the Duke brothers.)
To be truthful, Jamie Lee Curtis as the compassionate prostitute Ophelia and Dan Aykroyd made this movie work for me. You have to be willing to sit through some essentially very depressing stuff (the ruining of Louis, while comic, gets really sad after a while) and watching Eddie Murphy ham it up as the penniless guy who’s now rolling in the money doesn’t really quite take the edge off of all of it, to tell you the truth.
In the end, the two wind up meeting each other and developing a plan to put the Duke brothers out of business for good.
All in all, Trading Places is an excellent movie, but it feels a little maudlin nowadays when you realize the direction Murphy could’ve gone instead of where he went. Then again, almost anything directed by John Landis is guaranteed to make me smile.