FILM (1983)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 January, 2009, 12:00am

Trading Places

Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliot, Jamie Lee Curtis

Director: John Landis

A fair whack of the genius behind John Landis' sparkling comedy lies in the casting.

Eddie Murphy had emerged from the Saturday Night Live support cast and - thanks in no small part to the groundbreaking live film Delirious (1983) - had established himself as the leading comedy act in the US. He had dabbled in the mainstream too, grabbing rave reviews for his part in 48 Hours (1982), but Murphy was still very much a phenomenon waiting to explode.

Dan Aykroyd had also been schooled at SNL, with far more success than Murphy, but had seen his forays into the cinema world meet with less than enthusiastic results (it's worth remembering that The Blues Brothers was a flop on release in 1980).

Landis could obviously see the magic just waiting to happen: all he needed was the right script and a healthy assortment of veterans to add a little weight to the whole production.

And so the director got to work with the screenwriting team of Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod and they took the well-worn comic route of playing on the debate about nature versus nurture. It would prove to be another masterstroke.

Murphy plays a small-time con artist and is given full rein to bring on his brand of kinetic comedy; Aykroyd as a young financial wiz employs his unique mix of the straight and the downright silly.

The ruse is the two are brought together by a pair of rich brothers (veterans Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) who wager one dollar on whether circumstance has put them where they are. So they knock the rich kid down and elevate the con man - and sit back to see how nature might take its course.

Much of the laughter stems from how convincing the two leads are in their new roles. Murphy plays the well-heeled game to perfection, Akyroyd (above left with Murphy) falls apart disgracefully. And when they discover what's going on, they play off each other to perfection.

Trading Places may start as slapstick but it takes a more thoughtful turn as the film progresses, and in the end Landis offers something quite unique: a madcap comedy that still makes you think.