Wow. Just wow. This is a movie that would NEVER be allowed to be made today. There’s a scene with Aykroyd mulling about killing his former bosses with shotguns, and another where he’s dressed up in blackface. It’s the kind of movie that would come out and then there’d be furor on social media asking for theaters to pull it. Actors who starred in the movie would post public apologies and the studio would have to answer questions about it in the years to come.
That doesn’t mean it’s not funny, as Trading Places really does generate some hilarious moments, most notably the scene where Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee-Curtis and Paul Gleason share a train ride together, with everyone but Gleason playing elaborate, exaggerated characters. The dynamic and chemistry between the stars is palpable, and its at this moment where Trading Places finally finds its groove. It’s a funny that you feel guilty at laughing for since you know it’s offensive. Still doesn’t mean it isn’t funny, but a humor you can’t purely enjoy.
But everything until that point is more of a slow trudge, with us having to learn the intricacies of each of the relationships and the final scheme that really set everything into motion in the first place. In essence, Dan Aykroyd is rich, Eddie Murphy is poor, two rich guys come up with a bet to see if they can make Murphy rich and Aykroyd poor, Aykroyd and Murphy find out about bet, and then Aykroyd and Murphy make rich guys poor. But it takes more than an hour to finally get to this point, by which we’ve kind of lost interest, but we still commit anyway because this is Aykroyd and Murphy we’re talking about! They’re funny, and in turn, whatever they’re in is funny too! Right?
Kind of. Most of the humor early in the film comes from Murphy adjusting to his new surroundings, and Aykroyd stumbling around drunk in a santa suit. But there aren’t that many jokes or actual funny things happening, it’s just the overall situation that they’re in that’s a bit more amusing.
Still, Trading Places is considered an 80s classic and was especially relevant earlier this decade in the wake of the financial crisis, where audiences found catharsis in a turning comedy that focused on two greedy millionaires losing it all. Nowadays, the film doesn’t hold up so much, because our big bad problem right now is Trump, not the big bad banks and crooked Wall Street folk anymore. So this probably isn’t the right time to enjoy Trading Places. But sure enough, there will be another recession or crisis of some sort within the coming years and we’ll turn back to Trading Places and look past its flaws, savoring the funny moments in-between and the antagonists’ downfall that we wish would happen to so many real life figures.