Radio (2003) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, S. Epatha Merkeson, Brent Sexton, Chris Mulkey, Sarah Drew, Riley Smith, Patrick Breen, Debra Winger
Director: Michael Tollin
Screenplay: Mike Rich
Based on a true story, Radio takes place in a small South Carolina community, where a well-respected high school football coach and teacher Harold Jones (Ed Harris, The Hours) spends most of his long days preparing his team for each big game. An unexpected event occurs, when the entire team decides to thoughtlessly torment a defenseless mentally disabled man (Gooding Jr., The Fighting Temptations), setting Coach Jones off against the team, and feeling compassion for this poor man who walks by the practice field every day, pushing his shopping cart of junk he finds. Slowly, the coach befriends this man, dubbing him with the nickname of ďRadioĒ for his affinity toward transistor radios, and the soul music played on the local stations. Soon, Radio becomes a regular part of practice, then the games, then the classroom, and almost every part of the coachís life. However, not everyone understands the motivations of the altruistic coach, and they see Radio as more of a distraction and potential danger to the students of the school and the teamís chance of winning.
Radio is directed by sports enthusiast Michael Tollin, who has exclusively directed sports films, including Hardwood Dreams, Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, and Summer Catch. It is also written by Mike Rich (Finding Forrester), who penned the fantastic baseball film, The Rookie, which was also based on an inspirational true story. Round this out with some very fine actors in Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris and Alfre Woodard (The Core, K-Pax), and you have all the makings of a top-notch sports drama.
Cuba Gooding Jr. has gotten a bad rap for choosing some very silly comedies to be in of late, so itís easy to dismiss his performance here as one not to take too seriously, or just an attempt to try for a second Academy Award, but itís hard to imagine someone doing better than he does in the role. There is predictability to the story, and some obvious Hollywood tinkering for the sake of making it more compelling, but thatís par for the course whenever youíre dealing with true stories about sports or people overcoming adversity. You get exactly what you think youíll get, no more, no less. I suppose they could have thrown in a curveball and have made it a torrid love affair between Radio and Coach Jones, so I suppose we should be thankful for taking the safe approach.
Contrivances abound, so those who are jaded when it comes to feel-good Hollywood will want to take this into consideration before attempting to view Radio. Itís not for scrooges or film snobs. (Iím always amazed that Radio can always find a terrific soul song anytime he wants, and never hits a commercial break -- was commercial radio really so much better in the mid-70s??) Thereís also some overreaching done for some shallow conflicts, as if a mentally challenged man becoming the townís hero werenít a difficult enough feat. Itís a big pill to swallow, and even though I knew I was being manipulated every step of the way, it still worked for me.
Gooding is good, and Harris is fantastic, and when you see the real Radio and Coach Jones at the end of the movie, it is a touching moment that makes all of the story manipulations worthwhile. Radio is a bit heavy on the syrup, but still satisfying nonetheless.
©2004 Vince Leo