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Trading Places: The Looking Good, Feeling Good Edition

Few things are as disappointing as settling down to pop an old favorite in the DVD player and discovering that it's not quite as good as you remembered. Such is the case with Trading Places (1983), a still-funny but awfully dated buddy/double-cross comedy that's widely thought of as one of the "classic" films of the '80s. Sure, it's entertaining, and, yes, it will make you laugh, but ultimately the story of a poor con artist and a wealthy commodities trader whose lives are suddenly swapped just isn't as much fun as it used to be. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd star as, respectively, Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III, a pair of socio-economic opposites who become the subjects of a whimsical nature-vs.-nurture bet made between the two bored, rich Duke Brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy). Plucked from the streets of Philadelphia, motor-mouthed flim-flam artist Billy Ray finds himself surrounded by luxury, sitting in a corner office, and giving orders to long-suffering butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott). Winthorpe, meanwhile, is framed for theft and drug-dealing and survives a night in jail only to discover that his house, job, bank account, and snobby fiancée have all gone the way of the Dodo. His only friend is Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), a cheerfully business-minded hooker with a soft spot for hard-luck cases. Both Murphy and Aykroyd make the most of their fish-out-of-water scenes; it's hilarious to see the formerly prim Winthorpe rattling off synonyms for PCP, and no one does mischievously self-satisfied grins like Murphy. But the movie loses steam when the third act kicks in; yes, we want to see the Dukes get their comeuppance, but the confusing orange juice-report scheme is too complicated for a comedy (though, on the plus side, it does make room for Tom Davis and Al Franken as weirdly wacky baggage handlers). The Dukes' casual racism is also hard to swallow two decades down the line, even from stuffy, old-coot characters — that, more than anything, makes watching Trading Places a more jarring experience than you might expect. If you do give it a spin, chances are you won't be disappointed with Paramount's second edition on DVD — "The Looking Good, Feeling Good Edition" upgrades the previous bare-bones release with the new retrospective featurette "Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places" (18 min.) featuring comments from John Landis, Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis; vintage 1983 interviews (complete with some idiotic open-ended questions from an unseen interviewer) in "Trading Stories" (8 min.); a deleted scene with an introduction and optional commentary by executive producer George Fosley Jr., which was restored for the TV version (3 min.); "Dressing the Part" (6 min.); "The Trade in Trading Places" (5 min.); and a vintage ShoWest industry promo spot with an introduction by John Landis (4 min.). Also accessible from the Special Features menu is a subtitle track of pop-up trivia. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is clean, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is strong and clear. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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