Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Trading Places (1983)

Nature versus nurture has been an ongoing debate as long as I can remember.  One side says that upbringing is everything.  Given the right resources, education and opportunity can make all the difference.   The other side says that it’s all genetics.  Given the right lineage, you can do anything you set your mind to.  Randolph and Mortimer Duke, who own a commodities brokerage, start debating which is more important.

The debate escalates to where they place a wager.  If genetics is all powerful, then someone would land on their feet no matter what.  If opportunity trumps all, then some guy brought in off the street could be trained to do anything.  As it so happens, they have the perfect person to take a fall:  Louis Winthorpe III, played by Dan Aykroyd.  He manages their business and is engaged to their grandniece, Penelope.  He has all the good lineage and wealth the Duke Brothers could ask for.  Now all they need is someone to take his place.

Enter Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy.  He’s a fast-talking con man off the streets.  He gets arrested when he bumps into Louis.  (Louis thinks that Billy Ray is trying to steal his briefcase, which contains payroll checks.)  He’s the kind of guy that the Duke Brothers feel wasn’t given the right opportunities.

The Duke Brothers bail Billy Ray out of jail and set him up in Louis’s place.  Meanwhile, they make it look like Louis stole three marked bills.  Louis winds up in jail.  He gets out quickly, but is turned away by Penelope.  He also finds that his accounts are frozen and that he can’t get back into his townhouse, as Billy Ray is living there.  He winds up living with a prostitute named Ophelia.  (Ophelia is played by Jamie Lee Curtis.)  He has to pawn an expensive watch just to get some cash.

It takes a while for Billy Ray to get used to everything.  His new butler, Coleman, keeps reassuring him that everything is his and that it’s all real.  Not long after moving in, Billy Ray takes over Louis’s old job and proves good at it.  It looks like opportunity does play an important factor.

Eventually, Billy Ray overhears the Duke Brothers talking about their bet.  When he overhears that only a dollar was wagered, he decides that Louis has a right to know.  He eventually catches up with Louis at Ophelia’s place and has a close call.  He explains everything back at the townhouse and Coleman confirms.  At Billy Ray’s suggestion, Louis comes up with a plan to get revenge on the Duke Brothers.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t get old.  I keep seeing it on television, usually right as the revenge part begins.  (The revenge is maybe the last third of the movie.)  I finally got around to watching it through Netflix’s streaming service.

Most of the movie is relatively safe.  We do get a few scenes with some nudity, and yes, you do get to see stuff.  Also, there’s one scene towards the end where the F bomb is used, so parental discretion is advised.  As for the financial aspect, the end of the movie was a little confusing.  I’m not exactly sure what Billy Ray and Louis did.  However, it’s not really necessary to understand the plot of the movie.  It’s not the kind of thing that will be distracting or cause you to lose sight of the story.  It’s evident that Billy Ray and Louis knowingly ruin the Duke Brothers.  (From what I read on IMDb, Eddie Murphy was so confused by the financial aspect that he just stuck to the script for the final scenes.)

As for family versus opportunity, the movie wasn’t really to heavy-handed with it.  It was just something to get the plot going.  One thing that occurred to me when I first saw the movie was that when Louis and Billy Ray come together, they end up being unstoppable.  While both lineage and opportunity may be important, it looks like it’s both things together that make a person great.

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