Director: Michael Tollin
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, S. Epatha Merkerson, Brent Sexton, Chris Mulkey, Sarah Drew, Riley Smith, Debra Winger
MPAA Rating: (for mild language and thematic elements)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 10/24/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
Underneath the sugary sweet external coating of Radio is a cynical and pandering piece of hypocrisy. Even though we're supposed to feel inspired by the way everyone finds a place in their heart for the poor, mentally challenged man and comes understand that he has feelings too, we can't help but notice the voyeuristic way in which the audience is meant to laugh at how cute and cry at how sad the poor, mentally challenged man is. Ironically, the villains in the movie are the ones who "just don't understand him" and take that apprehension out on him in the form of pranks or trying to kick him off the football or basketball team. How different are that attitude and those actions from the sensibility of a montage in which we see this man get hit in the head with a football, fall down, and otherwise be made a spectacle of? What place does he find in this town beyond being the lovable diversion? We're not meant to understand the condescendingly nicknamed "Radio," but we are supposed to feel good about the fact that everyone ends up finding him so gosh-darned adorable.
Radio's real name is James Robert Kennedy, and he's played by Cuba Gooding Jr. I feel the need to tell you his real name, because it seems forgotten by everyone in the movie immediately after it's revealed. He spends his day wandering around town with a shopping cart full of assorted items he finds on his walks. One day, he happens past a high school football practice and watches for a while. Coach Jones (Ed Harris) notices him but thinks little of it. Later, he stops by again, but this time he takes a football that was lost over the fence. The next day, Jones finds that a few members of his team have bound the man with tape, beaten him, and put him in a shed and proceed to throw balls at it. Jones frees him, punishes the boys by running them extra at the next practice, and later decides to give him a ride home. His mother Maggie (S. Epatha Merkerson) works long shifts at the hospital, and Jones has decided to make the newly dubbed Radio an unofficial part of the team. And, of course, with football season and the new relationship with Radio, Jones is wont to overlooking his wife Linda (Debra Winger) and daughter Mary Helen (Sarah Drew).
In those relationships lies one of the main problems with the lesson of the movie, which also applies to the way Jones and the community acts towards Radio. The moral of this story is that you don't actually have to do good things; you simply have to want to do good things. Note the way the father/daughter relationship is handled. Jones flat out ignores his daughter, but in one scene on Christmas night, he comes home late—again—kisses her, and says he loves her. The thought is that he doesn't need to try to be a good father as long as he wants to be. Similarly, Jones doesn't actually want to help Radio, even if it seems that way. At only one point is a truthful observation made, when the school's principal (played by a yet again underused Alfre Woodard) asks if Radio is only a glorified mascot. Jones dismisses the notion, and it's never brought up again. From what we see, Radio is clearly being used. Just listen to Jones' reasoning behind his relationship with Radio. It's a selfish attempt to correct past demons.
We can't help but think that the screenplay uses him as well, which is most apparent at the end of the movie when we see footage of the real Kennedy. He's nowhere near as affected as portrayed in the movie, which perhaps has something to do with aging, but it doesn't matter either way. The blame lies primarily with screenwriter Mike Rich and director Michael Tollin, who need this exaggerated caricature to have the foolish butt of jokes that they want, but the problem rolls down upon Cuba Gooding Jr. Gooding takes the role head on in a bad way, focusing on tics, a blank stare, and not much else. It's a misguided performance made worse by the fact that Gooding is clearly Acting his way through the whole thing. Ed Harris does what he can with this clichéd, unintentionally unsympathetic role, but what more can one expect from an actor during the big speech in which he tells the town that it's really been Radio that's been teaching them?Yet I still wonder what lesson these people learned anyway? They certainly have no interest in legitimately helping Radio. I forgot to mention that a social worker appears later in the movie and instantly becomes a villain because he wants to explore the possibility of finding a place for Radio once it seems there's no one left to properly care for him. What was he thinking? I hope the people behind the true story of Radio had as much real compassion as the implied evil compassion of the social worker, because there's something seriously wrong with the way everything plays out in the Hollywood version.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.