Radio Movie Review
"Radio" is the kind of "based on a true story," pandering feel-good movie in which nobody ever says what's on his or her mind without turning it into a momentous anecdote, and the fictional characters contrived solely for plot conflict stand out like circus clowns at a funeral.
You know the characters I mean -- the star-jock bully who picks on the hero and (gasp!) gets benched for it, the jock's callous father who subsequently reviles the coach for not sharing his twin philosophies of "boys will be boys" and "winning is everything."
There are literally scores of such clichés in this predictable story of a mentally challenged young man (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in small-town South Carolina circa 1976, who was taken under the wing of a high school football coach (Ed Harris) and grew into a valuable member of the sideline crew and a local celebrity. But while the movie isn't all that bad in spite of this triteness, it certainly is bland. The lazy screenwriting mentality that produces such characters just isn't capable of originality or imagination.
As a result, the film hangs on the acting ability of Gooding, who rises to the occasion for the first time in years. Starring as James "Radio" Kennedy -- who in real life has worked his way up to assistant coach for the Hanna Yellow Jackets since becoming the team's ball boy almost 30 years ago -- Gooding convincingly affects his shy, snaggle-toothed character's "Rain Man"-like mannerisms with a dignity and deference that lends itself to affable empathy.
But while director Mike Tollin ("Summer Catch") does manage to tug a few true heartstrings with the genuinely human performances of Gooding and the well-cast Harris, the movie's plot development is so foreseeable that even overly florid composer James Horner ("The Perfect Storm," "A Beautiful Mind") seems to be always jumping the gun. His saturating score moves into full emotional swing long before the coach gets a neglectful-father scolding from his wife ("Can't you make room for both your daughter and those boys?") and before each of the inevitable, well-meaning blunders and tragedies that raise doubts in the community about Radio's fitness for working with high school kids.
By the time the line "We're not the ones been teachin' Radio, he's been teachin' us" rolls around, "Radio" has become so sodden with sticky sentimental syrup it's a wonder the film can make it through the projector without gumming up the works.
If you've ever wondered how much difference a director can make, see "Radio" then rent "The Rookie," last year's heart-warming but sap-free, genuinely inspired and cinematically impeccable true-sports-miracle movie about a 40-something major league recruit. Both films were written by the schmaltzy Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester"), but "Rookie" helmer John Lee Hancock handled his film with unpretentious honesty and aplomb to which Tollin doesn't even bother to aspire.