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The Films of John Landis

Schlock

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Animal House

The Blues Brothers

An American Werewolf in London

Trading Places (July 1/09)

Armed with standout performances from stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, Trading Places undoubtedly (and effortlessly) lives up to its reputation as one of the most impressive comedies to emerge out of the 1980s. The movie details the chaos that ensues after wealthy brothers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) orchestrate a total role reversal for a snooty employee (Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III) and a streetwise hustler (Murphy's Billy Ray Valentine) as part of a bet, with the majority of the proceedings subsequently following the two patsies as they attempt to adapt to their new surroundings (which, in Louis' case, includes a friendship with Jamie Lee Curtis' warm-hearted prostitute). It's an unabashedly high concept premise that's employed to positive effect by director John Landis, although it does go without saying that the lion's share of praise for the film's success belongs to both Aykroyd and Murphy - as the actors' exceedingly engaging work ultimately proves instrumental in smoothing over some of the more questionable elements within the narrative. At a running time of close to two hours, Trading Places inevitably winds up feeling like too much of a good thing - with the movie's less-than-enthralling third act the most obvious victim of its overtly flabby sensibilities. It's worth noting, however, that the incredibly satisfying finale - which includes an appropriately mean-spirited comeuppance for Randolph and Mortimer - ensures that the film ends on as high a note as one could envision, with the impressive lack of melodramatic elements during this stretch (ie a fake break-up between Curtis' character and Louis) indicative of the screenplay's reluctance to fall back on the various conventions and clichés of the genre. Trading Places' effectiveness inevitably forces one to lament Landis' slow but steady fall from grace, as the filmmaker - after cranking out such memorable comedies as ¡Three Amigos! and Coming to America - has been woefully absent from theaters since helming 1998's underrated Blues Brothers 2000.

out of

Into the Night

Spies Like Us

Three Amigos

Coming to America (August 11/14)

Coming to America follows Eddie Murphy's Prince Akeem, the heir to the throne of a fictional African country, as he arrives in New York City hoping to find a wife, with complications ensuing as Akeem and faithful cohort Semmi (Arsenio Hall) are forced to take low-paying jobs at a fast-food restaurant. Filmmaker John Landis has infused Coming to America with a tremendously affable and consistently hilarious sensibility that proves impossible to resist, with the movie's compulsively watchable atmosphere heightened by the efforts of an almost uniformly charismatic cast - with Murphy's appealing turn as the film's hero matched by a top-notch roster of periphery performers (including James Earl Jones, John Amos, and Eriq La Salle). It doesn't hurt, either, that scripters David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein have packed the narrative with a number of laugh-out-loud funny gags and set pieces, with the movie's heavy emphasis on Akeem and Semmi's fish-out-of-water exploits certainly perpetuating the irresistibly comic vibe. There is, however, little doubt that Coming to America loses some momentum as it progresses into its flabby midsection, as Landis offers up a handful of padded-out subplots (eg Akeem's crush on a beautiful coworker) and flat-out needless sequences (eg it's difficult to justify or derive much entertainment out of Murphy's turn as a terrible soul singer). The film does rebound for an effective and uplifting final stretch, however, which ultimately does confirm Coming to America's place as a better-than-average comedy and a worthy followup to Murphy and Landis' first collaboration, Trading Places.

out of

Oscar

Innocent Blood

Beverly Hills Cop III

The Stupids

Blues Brothers 2000

Susan's Plan

Slasher

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project

Burke and Hare