Radio

Movie Review by Dan Spiers

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr, Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, S Epatha Merkerson, Riley Smith

Director: Michael Tollin

Cuba Gooding Jr. is James Robert Kennedy, aka ‘Radio’, a man who in the eyes of his local community is a trolley-pushing, buck-toothed, simpleton to be avoided. The opening sequences of the movie establish that he’s a loner operating on the fringes of society, drifting between the rail track, football field and home. At all times he’s preceded by a remarkably well behaved trolley and accompanied by the ‘soul sounds’ of his radio- hence the nickname.

Inspired by true events the movie revolves around Radio and the local college football coach, Harold Jones (Ed Harris). We see the birth of their relationship when Coach Jones observes a timid figure placing a football that has escaped the training ground perimeter fencing into a trolley and subsequently shuffling off. He is brought into closer contact with Radio when he discovers a group of his own players abusing ‘the retard’ by locking him in an equipment shed and using it for target practice.

There begins a mentoring relationship between the two in which Coach Jones re-evaluates his life and Radio is gradually integrated into the community. Radio becomes a mascot for the Hannah Hornets, breaking down firmly entrenched prejudices and playing an increasingly prominent role in everyone’s lives to the evident delight of himself and those around him.

Through the course of the football season, the folks of Anderson, South Carolina, are focused on the performance of the Hornets. The post-match ritual in which Coach Harris meets elder statesmen in the barbershop to discuss the plays and sup fine coffee evokes this well. In this regard football drives the film onwards and it is in the barber’s that Coach Jones is told Radio is a distraction rather than a benefit to the team; while the Coach argues that Radio’s welfare should be of primary concern and not football.

But the interminably long football sequences that director Michael Tollin indulges in merely bury this message beneath a field of mud, defensive linebackers and cracked helmets. It’s clear from his previous movie SUMMER CATCH that Tollin has an interest in sport, but he appears to be pleasuring himself at the expense of Radio, the film and its audience.

This is further illustrated by the importance of the Jones family to the conclusion of the movie and their virtual absence from the rest of it. Because RADIO is over obsessed with the depiction of another pointless play, the family is painted with too broad a brush and when it’s time to care about them there is simply no emotional connection.

James Robert Kennedy is clearly a fine man who has evidently brought a great deal of happiness to many people, but RADIO is a confused interpretation of his life. The man himself may be worthwhile but the movie is not. Though the performances of all concerned are acceptable (excluding that of Gooding Jnr.’s prosthetic teeth, which cast an absurd shadow over proceedings) watching it is like a broken zipper – tiresome and frustrating. RADIO really doesn’t know what it is and it’s not worth spending over 2 hours trying to find out.

2 out of 6 stars

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