Dave Kehr on "Trading Places"
Rich boy and poor boy swap lives. The only reason for using a plotline as primitive as this is to give two improvisational comics like Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy plenty of room to maneuver. But John Landis is so deficient in basic storytelling skills that he must spend hours explicating the most elementary plot points while Aykroyd and Murphy are sidelined. Like 1981's Arthur, this 1983 film re-creates a screwball comedy format and then eliminates everything but the crudest audience-gratification elements; any incursions into the more morally complicated side of the genre are quickly curtailed. Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, as the two unshaded villains, provide the appropriate 30s reference point; Jamie Lee Curtis, a strong and intelligent performer elsewhere, here succumbs to Landis's penchant for turning all his heroines into busty bunnies.
"John Landis’s enduring comedy of class relations, in which a patrician Philadelphia commodities trader (Dan Aykroyd) finds himself out on the street while a hustler (Eddie Murphy) occupies his position at a white-shoe firm, has been given a solid upgrade (as well as new HD-DVD and Blu-ray editions) from Paramount Home Video. Now that the star power of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Aykroyd (both then riding high from “Saturday Night Live”) has dimmed slightly, it’s possible to see “Trading Places” as the expertly crafted comedy that it is, rather than as a vehicle for ad-libbing comics.
Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche are the conniving brothers who decide to settle a bet over the nature-versus-nurture theories of human development by forcing the Murphy and Aykroyd characters to swap lives. As the presence of the two 1930s stars suggests, Mr. Landis and his screenwriters, Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod, are working with the same explosive politics of class that drove some of the best screwball comedies of that era, with a particular debt to Gregory La Cava’s great “My Man Godfrey.”
Like that film, “Trading Places” plays out its pointed observations about privilege and marginalization in America without overt moralizing, while the cutting and framing reflect the almost scientific precision that is Mr. Landis’s trademark. Several new extras are included, most notably the brief promotional film used to drum up interest in the project. With Jamie Lee Curtis as a streetwalker who proves a shrewd businesswoman, and Denholm Elliott in the indispensable Eric Blore role as the all-wise, all-seeing manservant."