Swopping is funny. The cinema proves it. The fish out of water scenario is great, all the more so when you get two for the price of one. Trading Places, for all its borderline offensive set-up manages to handle one of its swops in an exemplary fashion, and the other one it does not completely fuck up. A product very much of the early eighties, it is a film where the black protagonist outshines the rest of his estimable company and does so by generally being clever (though completely desexualised).

Rich white kid becomes poor. Poor black man is made rich. The race aspect is essential to the film because however low Dan Ackroyd gets busted, he never fulfills the position in society that Eddie Murphy’s street level hustler does. Indeed it is only due to complete lack of gumption that Ackroyd falls as far as he does. In comparison Murphy is a fast talking, hard working operator for whom merely surviving is the highest he can naturally get. The film does not want to play politics but has to. In the film these people lives are callously manipulated by two of societies Stupid White Guys (in the parlance) for a bet. But society has already fucked Murphy up, the guy who can effectively turn the tables at the end is more than smart enough to operate in that world. But is usually not allowed.

So socially transgressive? Not really. It does not want to talk about its politics, so much so that it happily throws a tart with a heart into the mix. Ackroyd loses his money but finds love = the old the poor people don’t have much but at least they have genuine affection bullshit that any class structure is predicated on. Ie its okay being in the lower class, because they have something the rich don’t. It is not enough that Murphy is manipulated into his position of wealth, we the audience feel he has to earn it as well (as if twenty years on the street would not be enough). The heart of American class politics and racial politics in the early eighties is laid bear in this rather minor comedy, which makes it fascinating viewing.

But it is really not that funny.