PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Duke brothers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) own Duke & Duke, a successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holding opposing views on the issue of nature versus nurture, they make a wager and agree to conduct an experiment switching the lives of two people at opposite sides of the social hierarchy and observing the results. They witness an encounter between their managing director—the well-mannered and educated Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), engaged to the Dukes’ grand-niece Penelope (Kristin Holby)—and a poor street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy); Valentine is arrested at Winthorpe’s insistence because of a suspected robbery attempt. The Dukes decide to use the two men for their experiment.
Winthorpe is publicly framed as a thief and drugs are planted on him when he is arrested. He is fired from his job, his bank accounts are frozen, and he is denied entry to the Duke-owned town-house where he resides. He befriends a prostitute named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) who allows him to stay at her apartment on the condition of receiving a reward once he re-establishes himself in society. Winthorpe soon finds himself ostracized and abandoned by Penelope and his former friends. Meanwhile, claiming to operate an assistance program for the underprivileged, the Dukes bail Valentine out of jail, install him in Winthorpe’s position at the company and give him use of Winthorpe’s home. Valentine quickly becomes well-versed in the business and acts well-mannered, even applying his street smarts to the job.
During the firm’s Christmas party, Winthorpe is caught planting drugs in Valentine’s desk in a desperate attempt to get his job back. After Winthorpe flees, Valentine hides in a bathroom stall to smoke a joint he took from the desk. The Dukes enter the bathroom and, unaware of Valentine’s presence, discuss in detail the outcome of their experiment and settle their wager for $1. Valentine overhears their exchange and learns that the Dukes have no intention of keeping him in the job due to his race. Valentine decides to seek out Winthorpe.
Having unsuccessfully attempted suicide by shooting himself with a semi-automatic pistol (which fails to go off till after he throws it away), Winthorpe again attempts suicide in Ophelia’s apartment by overdosing on pills. Valentine, Ophelia and Winthorpe’s former butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott) nurse him back to health and inform him of the Dukes’ experiment. On television, they learn of a Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason) transporting a secret report on orange crop forecasts. Winthorpe and Valentine recall large payments made to Beeks by Duke & Duke and realize that the Dukes are planning to obtain this report to corner the market on frozen orange juice. The group agrees to disrupt their plan as revenge.
Learning of Beeks’ travel plans, the four get aboard his train (aboard which a New Year’s Eve costume party is also being thrown) to switch the report in Beeks’ possession with a forgery. Beeks uncovers their scheme and attempts to kill them. He fails, because of the interference of a drunken partier in a gorilla costume, and is subdued, and the group dress him in a gorilla costume and lock him in a cage with a real gorilla. The forgery is then delivered to the Dukes, while Winthorpe and Valentine head to the World Trade Center to buy out the Dukes, Coleman and Ophelia providing the necessary money.
On the commodities trading floor at Four World Trade Center, the Dukes commit all their holdings (Randolph doing so against Mortimer’s advice) to buying frozen concentrated orange-juice futures contracts; other traders follow their lead, inflating the price. Before the real crop report is declassified, Valentine and Winthorpe sell futures heavily at the increased price. After the forecast that the orange crop will be normal, the price of orange-juice futures plummets. Valentine and Winthorpe successfully cover their short sales, turning a profit of more than three hundred million American dollars. The Dukes fail to meet a margin call and are ruined, being left owing three hundred and ninety-four million American dollars for futures now worth a fraction of what they contracted to pay. Valentine and Winthorpe explain to the Dukes that they had made a wager on whether they could get rich while making the Dukes poor simultaneously. Valentine collects $1 from Winthorpe (who had believed their revenge plan would fail) while Randolph collapses holding his chest, a heart attack having seized him, and Mortimer shouts angrily at his brother about their failed plan.
Beeks and the gorilla are last seen being loaded onto a ship headed to Africa, while Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia, and Coleman relax on a luxurious yacht in an un-named tropical locale.
When you mess with people’s lives, more often than not, it will come back and bite you in the end. Just ask the two antagonists of Trading Places, who you may recognize as the two bums outside the restaurant in Coming to America.
I was just reading some reviews about this film, and, of course some people are trying to make this more than just a film, but rather some sort of philosophical benchmark. One person even went so far as to call it opera for our time (even though there isn’t a single word sung in this picture). Isn’t it amazing how some people can’t just let a movie be a movie?
Imagine if you will, you are a rich yuppie managing editor. Everything is going your way, even things with your fiancée. All of a sudden one day, you have a run-in with a guy on the street whom you think was trying to steal your briefcase (when in actuality it was he just knocked it out of your hand was trying to give it back to you). After giving chase around your place of business, the police capture the thief and you decide to press charges.
Unbeknownst to you, though, your bosses have bailed him out and are preparing to ruin your life for the sake of their entertainment and a social experiment to prove which side of the argument is more valid, nature or nurture.
Now imagine what it must be like to find be framed for theft and drug use, which gets you fired, and subsequently causes the end of your relationship. My, my how things have gone down for you in a hurry, but as quickly as things have gone down for you, they seem to have been getting better for the guy who you thought tried to steal your briefcase.
So, yeah, that is the plot of this picture. Nothing too fancy or complicated, just good old 80s comedy, starring some two of the funniest guys of the time Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, plus season veterans Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy.
There is part of this flick that can leave you scratching your head. I’m not too well versed in the ways of the stock market, so anytime they got to talking about that stuff, it went right over my head. Luckily, though, that isn’t the major plot device of the film, except for near the end.
If you ever want to see comedic genius, then you have to go back to bygone years and find films such as this. Unfortunately, though, the film does suffer from some issues that bring it down.
The first is that it, while this is a pretty good story, that is all is it is. I’m not really sure why, but it just never really seemed to capture my attention the way it should have.
Second, I could be wrong, but it just seems as if there should be some law against messing with people’s lives like this. For goodness sakes, these guys ruined Winthorpe’s relationship among other things for $1, all so that they could be entertained. Hell, if they were that hard up for a dollar, why not have him and Billy Ray fight as gladiators?
Finally, the whole gorilla thing near the end seemed a bit shoehorned in there. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the picture. Do you really mean to tell me the writers couldn’t devise a better way to take care of Mr. Beeks than this? Not to mention the fact that the gorilla was obviously someone in a suit, which given the year this was released, I should let slide, but geesh!
One of my girlfriends in college was addicted to Trading Spaces, which basically meant I had to watch it, too. I can’t help but wonder if I should blame this film for my having to endure that?
So, here we have Eddie Murphy in his prime. That typically means it should be hilariously funny and a high recommendation, right? Normally, I’d be inclined to agree, but not this time. As I said, there are plenty of good things about this film, but nothing that is just stand out greatness, which is a real shame. Sure, I recommend this. It is not like this is a bad film. Its anything but that. However, it is one of many films that doesn’t seem to live up to its potential.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
This entry was posted on January 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm and is filed under Classics, Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags Dan Aykroyd, Denholm Elliott, Don Ameche, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Paul Gleason, Ralph Bellamy, social experiment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.