Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1983. Cinema Group Ventures, Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod. Cinematography by Robert Paynter. Produced by Aaron Russo. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Production Design by Gene Rudolf. Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman. Film Editing by Malcolm Campbell. Academy Awards 1983. Golden Globe Awards 1983.
This is one of the films that led to Eddie Murphy becoming the biggest comedy stars of the eighties and it is easy to see why. He plays a street thug who accidentally bumps into a snobby Philadelphia financier (Dan Aykroyd) and is wrongfully accused of trying to steal his briefcase. Aykroyd is the main adviser to two multi-millionaire commodity brokers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) who constantly argue between whether or not a man’s character is a matter of nature or nurture. In order to settle the debate, they make a bet and arrange to frame Aykroyd as a thief and destroy his reputation, while at the same time taking Murphy in and turning him into a business success. The latter immediately becomes a stylish gentleman with a sense of moral responsibility and an increased level of self-esteem, while Aykroyd takes to the streets and becomes friends with a good-natured prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis) who becomes his first real friend. It’s a clever idea whose execution has a lot of flaws worth pointing out: the film’s idea of rich, conservative demagogues couldn’t be less credible if it were a Looney Tunes short (rich old men who think they run the world do not openly discuss their plans in a public bathroom), and as is typical for eighties comedies there are far too many excuses to show naked breasts. Aykroyd never pulls the character off and seems like he’s doing a Saturday Night Live imitation of a silver-spooner, not a real embodiment of one, and the film’s last third, in which the cast team up for a revenge scheme, is overly complicated without actually being all that clever. That said, these things strangely don’t stop it from being one of the funniest movies you’ve ever seen: I defy anyone not to faint dead away laughing when Murphy decides to enact his idea of an African gentleman.