Picks and Pans Review: Trading Places
Just when you might have given up on Dan Aykroyd (after Neighbors and Dr. Detroit), along comes this satisfying comedy. Trading Places makes it respectable again to enjoy one of our truly gifted comedians. Make that two of our truly gifted comedians, since Aykroyd's fellow Saturday Night Live discovery, Eddie Murphy, co-stars. Aykroyd plays a detestably prissy wimp who runs a Philadelphia brokerage house for his wicked uncles, brilliantly sketched by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. Murphy is a ghetto-issue hustler who cons Christmas shoppers by pretending to be a blind, legless vet. Ameche and Bellamy, who love to debate the relative importance of upbringing versus heredity, engineer a role exchange to satisfy a dollar bet. Will Aykroyd, stripped of privilege, degenerate? Can Murphy, if given a lavish home, a limo, a butler (the deft Denholm Elliott) and proper training in trading pork belly futures, step into Aykroyd's handmade shoes? It's all outrageously contrived, and only surprising restraint by director John (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) Landis makes it work. The writing (Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod) is superb, too, leaving the two funnymen free to do the most inspired textured portrayals either has managed in movies. Aykroyd is by turns infuriating and winsome as he loses his credit, banking privileges and fiancée, the striking Ralph Lauren model Kristin Holby. But he finds a tough-talking, warmhearted pal in a hooker, played with disarming appeal by Jamie Lee Curtis. Murphy, meanwhile, adroitly and hilariously modulates his street wisdom and vulgarity into a high-class-white life-style. Getting out of such a convoluted, farcical plot on acceptable terms isn't easy. But Landis' climax works to perfection, as the two pawns pay back the uncles with a scam at the frozen-orange-juice exchange. One unseen star is Bonnie Timmerman, the film's casting director who has concocted one of the most entertaining cast chemistries in recent memory. (R)
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