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Running Time: 116 minutes
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis
Written by: Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod
Directed by: John Landis
Retail Price: $24.99
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (20 Scenes)
Released: September 17th, 2002
Ah, comedies. I'd say only the greatest and most timeless of films stand the test of times, but for some reason, I think it's even harder for comedies to stand through after so many years. Let's face it: some movies are only funny when we see them, and when we see them again, there's not much left to be amused about it, signaling it may not have been as inspired as it may have seemed in the first place. Sure, we got two hours worth of entertainment and laughing, but if you wanted to spend those two hours again with the same movie, sometimes there really isn't much to laugh about. Like certain slapstick gags or certain cultural references: there was a time and a place for them, and sometimes within months, all of that has disappeared (though maybe certain references can provide a sense of nostalgia, I know I get a bit teary-eyed when thinking of the hundreds of "Blair Witch Project" parodies I was subjected to in 1999!). It's nothing to be shameful about, it's just normal.
Fortunantly for all of us, "Trading Places" isn't the type of movie that was a success in 1983 and was all fun then and sucks now. Nearly twenty years later, this is one of the few comedies, I think, that still holds up and probably will for ages to come. It's a "Prince And The Pauper" type-of story to an extent, involving a bet between two wealthy brokers by the names of Randolph and Mortimer (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy). The two are brothers, and Randolph's idea is to take a petty crinimal and make him a success. That crinimal is Billy Ray (Eddie Murphy), who switches places with Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd). So Billy Ray is living the high life, and Louis is quite the opposite of what he's used to be. Yet there are some more tricks in this bet to test the true character of these men... and of course, the results are hilarious and zany.
So yes, there is so much to like about this movie all these years later, and why so many people still like it. Obviously, all the performances really stand out. As much I love Eddie Murphy in the "Beverly Hills Cop" films, he truly gives an instant starmaking performance as Billy Ray in the film. This is truly one of his greatest performances of all time. Murphy's energy and enthusiasm is downright wacky, exuberant and perfectly pitched, breathing so much life into his character, you can't help but be seduced by his crazy charms. He really tends to make what this film is about, and plays off well against the actors.
Dan Akyroyd also does a fine job, giving off a strong wit too and the mannerisms in how he copes with his recent newly acquired situation. There's a great sense of smugness and fine banter between Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, which is a fine example of great casting for their sibling roles. Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliot also shine in smaller, but surely strung performances.
John Landis' career has been interesting and mixed in my opinion. But he was the right guy to direct this film. It's a particuarly well shot film, but he paces it in a strong fashion. He knows what appeals to audiences, and basically the film offers scene after scene that is enjoyable with the right tone that is purely representive of its content. This is definently a comedy that just pleases all types of audiences, with the right sense of warmth and heart to get you into it when you watch it. It's really well executed.
The script from Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod does nice with the characters, story, events and laughs, though I am suspecting there was a good deal of improv on the set. Overall, when it adds up, they really don't make comedies like they used to, and this is a fine example of a classic, worthstanding comedy and one of the finest cinematic treasures from the 1980's. It's been nearly twenty years, so if you still have not seen this movie after its life on VHS and constant airings in syndication and cable television, then you'd be wise to invest in seeing this film.
The only times I've seen "Trading Places" before was on television, and of course, that was all pan and scanned. That being said, I was pretty glad to check out "Trading Places" in widescreen for my first time. It's nothing INCREDIBLY major since it's a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, but I was glad to see all of those crops and image cuts gone and enjoy it in its pure, original form (I may be slightly overdramatic). Fleshtones are excellent, while color saturation is very, very well done. The colors are quite bold and strike the image with a nice amount of depth, be it the clothing of the characters or the thick city streets.
Detail and black levels also look very good, but the transfer is not without flaws. Blemishes, nicks and scratches appear here and there, noise runs rampant throughout be it on the smallest prop or close shot of the actor and the images looks very grainy. Still, it's watchable and looks good for what it is.
Paramount has remixed the film into a full 5.1 Dolby Digital track in English, and while it doesn't break any new ground, it does go nicely with the movie. The triumphant score from Elmer Bernstein grabbed my attention the most, associating itself with good .1 LFE use and fine pitching throughout the speakers, giving it's own sort of power. Sound effects, ranging from car doors opening to the noise of the streets are quite good too. Dialogue has a certain crispness to it and is quite clear, not getting lost in the other sound elements. Fidelity is nice and dynamic range is pretty robust. Solid, if straight forward stuff here. Also included are English Dolby Surround and French mono tracks, plus English subtitles and English closed captions.
Another classic Paramount titles fans have been clamaroing for... and despite the long wait, absoltuley nothing. What a shame, not even a trailer. The title was originally announced I believe with retrospective interviews and the trailer, but those aren't here. I assume the interviews would have been from NBC's broadcast of the movie from a few months ago where they showed that (and they called it the 20th anniversary whereas it was more like its 18th, wuzzupwitdat!?), but no use ranting about those since they're not here. I know Landis does commentaries and all too... so hmm. Maybe a re-release in a few years? That would be great.
Truly an outstanding and classic comedy topped with great performances from rising and established stars, "Trading Places" is quite entertaining and enjoyable, and worth checking out if you haven't after all these years. Unfortuantly the DVD isn't packed with any extras at all, but the presentation is decent. It's getting harder and harder to reccomend these Paramount titles, since the prices are steep and they have nothing, whereas Disney has introduced a budget line with decent presentations and little to no supplements for a mere $9.95. So you're buying this for the movie basically... and if you're a fan (there are plenty out there), it will be worth it to you. Otherwise, it's truly worth a rental, and a strong one at that.