Back from a time where both John Landis and John Hughes could be relied upon for a good comedy, "Trading Places" offers funny early performances from Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd. Ackroyd stars as Louis Winthorpe III, a rich accountant who is engaged to be married. Murphy stars as Billy Ray Valentine, a homeless, fast-talking con-man. Valentine bumps into Winthorpe outside his Duke & Duke firm, leading to a misunderstanding that leads to Valentine's arrest.
Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) enter into the picture, making a wager that Valentine can take the place of Winthorpe without much difference, while Winthorpe - now with no money or power - will turn to crime to survive. They bail him out of jail, give him a remarkable bank account and an enormous house. Winthorpe is quickly shuttled out of the picture - framed for both theft and drug use.
When Valentine eventually finds out that he's only been a bet - or, as the brothers call it, a "scientific experiment", he enlists the help of Louis and the hooker (Jamie Lee Curtis) he's become friends with to try and get revenge on the Dukes, whose bet was only $1. The plot is fairly simple, but Murphy and Ackroyd are at their funniest, while supporting performances from Curtis and others are solid.
The movie is not without its faults, though: the middle of the overlong picture has moments that could could have been deleted to pick up the pace. Still, the opening and much of the last half remain highly entertaining, as skilled comedy editor Malcolm Campbell often finds a strong rhythm. Landis's usual cinematographer Robert Paynter offers a pretty subdued and rather blah color palette, but the film's low-key city locations give the film flavor.
Overall, while a bit on the dated side at this point, "Trading Places" remains a very funny and well-acted comedy that still provides some laughs, thanks largely to great performances from Murphy and Ackroyd.
VIDEO: "Trading Places" is presented by Paramount here with a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Although the opening credits have a few slightly dirty patches, the transfer perks up considerably afterwards, although the look of the movie itself never rises much above subdued. Sharpness and detail are satisfactory as, although the picture has a look that veers slightly towards soft, detail remains pleasant.
While the opening shows off the most reasons for concern, there are still some scattered problems throughout the rest of the movie: some slight specks on the print used, a couple of minor artifacts and some brief, light edge enhancement. Colors are rather dark and blah, but they're at least represented here accurately, with no fading or any other problems. Fleshtones also seemed accurate and natural. A bit rough around the edges at times, but an otherwise nice transfer, especially considering the fact that the film is nearly twenty years old at this point.
SOUND: Paramount has remixed the film's original mono soundtrack to Dolby Digital 5.1 for this presentation. I was not expecting much from the soundtrack of a 1983 comedy, but one element of the soundtrack really does benefit from the remastering: the classical score. From the film's opening, the score really does have enjoyable presence and clarity. While definitely still front-heavy, this remix does have its positive aspects.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated main/sub menus.
EXTRAS: Nothing. Given the success of the film and its following, I'd think at least some features could have been put together.
Final Thoughts: Paramount's DVD edition disapoints in the extras department, but offers respectable audio/video quality. Fans should seek a purchase.
The Film ***