James Robert Kennedy, nickname Radio, lives a difficult life. As
if growing up in a cozy football-crazy South Carolina town in 1976
isn’t bad enough, he is also mentally challenged and the son
of a single working mother. Michael Tollin’s new film
“Radio” tells this true story with a heavy hand that
inevitably bogs down his best of intentions.

Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as the good-hearted town outcast with a
passion for radios, hence the nickname. When introduced, Radio is
shy and confined to high school laughing stock, watching football
practices from behind the fence. This changes when the highly
esteemed football coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) recognizes
potential and takes him under his wing.

At first we wonder why Jones is so determined to help Radio, as
his initial presence on the football field as a sort of
cheerleading assistant coach stirs up controversy. All is later
revealed in a tender moment between father and daughter where Jones
relates his life-long regret of not helping a boy similar to
Radio.

Harris is the right fit for the revered Jones, who gently spouts
wisdom with a twinkle in his eye, ultimately managing to convert
the last cynic to his side. Although Harris works well within the
confines of his character, his performance inevitably borders on
recycling as it echoes similar roles in other tear-jerkers such as
“The Truman Show” and “Stepmom”.

As Radio’s immersion in the high school increases, thanks
to Coach Harold’s persistence, so does his popularity among
the students. Before long he is making announcements over the
loudspeakers in the mornings and slowly learning how to read and
write.

It is refreshing to see Gooding display those acting skills that
have been in hiding since his breakthrough role in “Jerry
Maguire.” Although occasionally hindered by the delicacy of
his role, he is successful in making the character his own while
maintaining moderate humility. Gooding shines when free from the
complications of interacting with other characters and allowed free
reign to dominate the screen with his powerful yet endearing
personality.

“Radio” fails to reach its potential because it
falls prey to the stale tactics of most inspirational sports
stories. All of the stock characters cameo, including the cruel
arrogant jock and the overbearing team parents, yet they lack any
distinctive quirks which could have given them credibility. Most
irritating is a heavy reliance upon the tired music montage to
develop characters and evoke emotions that the screenplay should
have taken care of.

Perhaps the uncanny feeling that we’ve heard these lines
before is because we have, well almost. Writer Mike Rich’s
credits include “The Rookie,” another reality-based
tale of the good guy’s triumph. And yet another instance
where the audience is only allowed to leave with that feel-good
fuzzy feeling after first paying their dues in tears.

Although predictably portrayed, the story of Radio’s life
is unique and worth telling. Tollin wisely ends with
heartbreakingly sweet footage of the real Radio that successfully
shifts the emphasis from his own flawed work to the real star, its
inspiring namesake.

Rating: 3 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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