October 2003

Reviewed by Wilson Morales
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Michael Tollin
Producers: Brian Robbins, Michael Tollin, Herbert W. Gains
Screenwriter: Mike Rich
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, Debra Winger, S.Epatha Merkerson, & Sarah Drew

Every year, it seems that there’s always at least one film that folks like to think is Oscar worthy because of the subject matter or the actors in the film. Either they go because they like the actors in the film and the subject matter or they don't go because of vice-versa. Sometimes the subject matter is too closely related to their personal life that they don’t want to get emotional in the theater. After all, movies are supposed to be entertaining right? When “I Am Sam” came out a few years ago, some folks didn’t want to go because they felt that their emotions were already “bought” as soon as they saw the trailer. How do you pan a movie about the mentally challenged? Nevertheless, Sean Penn received an Academy nomination for his performance in that film. In a story not so different from that one, “Radio” is another film where, judging by the trailer, your emotions are already “bought”. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s portrayal as James Robert Kennedy makes “Radio” an uplifting film where several lessons are learned.

Based on an article written by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated in 1996, “Radio” tells the true story of James Robert Kennedy (Gooding Jr.), nicknamed Radio because of his love of music and the massive collection of radios he’s gotten from his mother or found on the streets. Set in South Carolina around 1975, Radio is mentally impaired, but has a good sense of understanding of what’s going on in life. Always by himself, he starts to hang out by the football field where he catches the attention of Coach Jones (Harris). For some reason, Harris allows Radio to enter the practice fields and serve as a boost for the players. In a town where there are no major sports on the professional side, football is everything and Coach Jones needs to have a good season to keep his job. Coach Jones takes a liking to Radio as the two formed a bond, much to the chagrin of Radio’s mom (Merkerson), who questions the Coach’s motives for hanging with her son. As kind and gentle Radio is, his “mannerisms” present a challenge for some players on the team as well as the school principal (Woodard) who wonders whether Radio should be spending time at another school where he can be taken care of properly. Along with his wife (Winger) and daughter (Drew), Coach Jones is determined to teach Radio the fundamentals of life and let the town know that this guy brings joy and comfort to anyone who would give him the time.

What makes “Radio” worth watching is the sheer performances given by most of the leads. Gooding Jr. doesn’t always get the best of roles. Since he won the Oscar for Jerry Maguire, in which he was amazing I might add, his choices of films haven’t been great. For every Jerry Maguire, there are Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, and more recently Boat Trip. Nevertheless, in this film, he gracefully commands your attention with a performance that is earnest, credible, and non-exploitative. Much like Rain Man and I Am Sam, this film is also a buddy movie where screenwriter Rich sets up the formula between Gooding Jr. and Harris’s characters. Their bond is genuine and appealing. Based on a true story, Coach Jones is a composite of the many coaches that Radio had friendships with, Harris plays him with an upbeat and inspiring performance. Aside from James Horner’s clichéd and manipulative score, the film touches you because you do feel for the guy and how much he has given his community.