Cuba Gooding Jr. turns in a brilliant performance as the mentally challenged loner James Robert Kennedy nicknamed "Radio" due to his vintage radio collection in which one is always in his hand playing music he loves, and gives a "score" to his lonely existence of pushing a grocery cart up and down the streets of a South Carolina town.
Ed Harris is brilliant as usual as the town's popular high school football team coach who takes an interest in Radio upon seeing him watching a practice session. His friendship and concern for Radio develops into something that means much more than football to the very well respected coach, Harold Jones.
Jones allows Radio to be part of the team's practices and games on the sidelines, and sit in on his classes in school which opens up a whole new world for James(Radio), and essentially gives him a life that he is in dire need of.
And the director did Good Burger too. Seriously, why does this man get work?
Outside of the obvious that I'll touch upon later, the problem with the film is that its story structure is uneven, having long periods that make sure that you don't forget about the fact that they're long by padding things out with excess material and cuttable filler, only to turn right around and keep scenes relatively tight, yet not at the expense of repetition in the story progression that continues to pad out the film and slow down momentum, thus making for pacing that's not only off-puttingly uneven, but problematic no matter what extreme it is. Of course, if there's anything consistent about the pacing, then it's the fact that, no matter how much things get padded out in one fashion or another, the film isn't expository enough, neglecting to meditate upon the story and characters as thoroughly as it should, partially through simply hurrying through flesh-out, and partially through focus that is also uneven, albeit in a slight fashion, yet still to where the film's narrative focus finds itself too hazed, almost to the point of being all but entirely obscured, for you to fully attach yourself to this story. This uneven story structure and lack of narrative focus leaves momentum to take a dive, to where a sense of conflict dies down and the film is left hardly all that terribly compelling, let alone all that terribly memorable. That alone is enough to render this film underwhelming, yet the damage doesn't end there, as the film also takes heavy blows from the fact that the story that is so messily structured is riddled to no end with cliches, tackling several pieces of subject matter that we're not used to seeing bunched together and could have made for a unique story, if they were all married properly of course, yet what the film does instead is draw as many conventions as it can from each piece of subject matter, thus making the film extra conventional, when it could have perhaps been reasonably more unique than the average film of its type. What leaves these cliches, as well as many other flaws, to sting even more is the fact that the film is sentimental as all get-out, approaching its subject matter with a profound lack of subtlety and a just as profound abundance of saccarin, occasionally to the point of being a bit offensive, often to the point of being almost embarassingly overbearing, if not pretty farfetched-seeming (I'm dubious that the story is all that true, because this gets to be pretty ridiculous) and consistently to the point of diluting genuineness within this overambitious project and leaving emotional resonance to actually take more damage. The ambition behind this project is palpable, thankfully not to where this film feels rather arrogant, but to where this film feels a bit uncertain in small yet far-reaching ways, and were this film more comfortable in its structure, focus and subject matter, it very well could have been as rewarding as it wants to be and probably should be. As it stands, the film falls short of its potential, yet doesn't fall to the level that the majority of critics say it falls to, for although the film is such an overambitious mess, it does enough right, or at least reasonably well, to not just be entertaining, but undeniably rather enjoyable.
To give credit where credit is due, this film is set in the '70s and is about a guy who loves the radio, so you better believe that this film has quite the soundtrack, which may be surprisingly underused, yet really livens things up when eventually played, turning out one neat classic of a tune after another to help in giving this film some color. A much more prevalent form of music is the score, which is, as I'm about to get into, generally advantageous to the film, yet also detrimental, being often a bit generic, and just as often manipulated by director Michael Tollin to supplement the film's manipulativeness, as Tollin bites off more than he can chew from the soul of the score and all too often uses that to further - nay - especially emphasize the cheesiness of this subject matter. Of course, come on people, we're talking about James Horner, one of the great film score composers, and although his legendary talents go misused, if not even a been too toned down with this film, this score remains generally impressive, having soul and inspiration behind it that may not be especially intense, to where genericism finds itself drowned out, yet remains potent enough for Horner to really spark a lot of essence into this film and help greatly in making what few reasonably effective moments there are in this film be as effective as they are. Of course, all of this music simply supplements the already firmly established and undeniable entertainment value that keeps consistent throghout this film, even with all of the punches to genuine compellingness, because one of the biggest aspects behind this film's being kept alive is the very ambition that taints this potentially promising project. Director Michael Tollin is overambitious, and that drenches this film in ceaseless unsubtlety and sentimentality that really does have to be seen to believe, yet where that could have destroyed this film, Tollin battles back his missteps with very palpable inspiration, which may certainly not be enough for the film to transcend underwhelmingness, but remains enough to give this film a charm in both its simplicity and ambition, and that does the most in breathing enough livliness into this film to make the final product, if nothing else, thoroughly entertaining. The people who top off this film's livliness and secure the final product's being reasonably enjoyment are the leads, for although Ed Harris has little, if anything to do, he's strikingly charismatic, so much so that he takes a character who, on paper, is all but artificial, and crafts a reasonably believable and certainly respectable, while Cuba Gooding, Jr. does a much better job than the Razzies would have you believe, and admittedly a better job than I thought he could do, though he sadly finds himself dealt a mess of a character. On paper, the titular James Robert "Radio" Kennedy is a dehumanized device of a character if there ever was one, being too innocently sweet, too unfortunate and - woah boy - way too blasted, not slow, not mentally challenged, but all-out "retarted" (Oh, those dreaded pretty fake-looking funky teeth), and no matter how hard Gooding tries, there is no getting around much of the overbearing manipulativeness in such a character, yet what Gooding ultimately brings to this role is much more than it deserves, as he delivers on the genuineness and depth that's lacking on paper, while keeping relatively authentic in his portrayal of a retard (See the film and then try to say that I'm being offensive), complete with the awkward eccentricities and mannerisms, as well as the emotional range and flawed humanity that defines unfortunate souls of this type, thus making for an almost revelatory performance from Gooding that may go undercut by the faulty writing of his character, yet remains strong enough for Gooding to all but transform into his character (At least he's not playing Cuba Gooding, Jr. again) and come into his own as more of an engaging lead than this film deserves, and with the aforementioned charisma of Ed Harris, undeniable charm in Michael Tollin's ambition and consistent entertainment value also giving this film more than it deserves, the final product comes out more enjoyable than not, even with its missteps.
To sign off, the film is messily structured, going plagued by uneven pacing and either excessive filler or quite a bit of repetition, while uneven focus and limited exposition - made worse by thinly written characters and plot - leaves the narrative to feel unassured and hardly consequential, and with ceaseless cliches, sentimenality and overall unsubtlety serving as icing on the cake that is this film's many flaws, the final product comes out falling quite a bit short of potential, yet not to where it falls as flat as many say it does, for although the film is a mess, it ultimately wins you over, partially through a strong soundtrack and James Horner's sadly rather generic and certainly messily mishandled, yet generally strong, if not somewhat touching score work, and largely through both director Michael Tillon's undeniably charming inspiration and ambition and a pair of enjoyable lead performances from the underwritten yet thoroughly charismatic Ed Harris and undercut yet considerably underappreciatedly transformative and near-revelatory Cuba Gooding, Jr., thus leaving "Radio" to stand as a consistently entertaining and generally enjoyable film, even if it is flawed as all get-out.
2.5/5 - Fair
Cuba Gooding Jr. did an excellent job portraying the title character of a mentally-challenged young man in the mid 1960's who spends his time routinely pushing a shopping cart around town. He especially likes to watch the high school football team practice, the T.L. Hanna Yellow Jackets and become a fixture around the local high school. Coach Jones (Ed Harris) forms a friendship with this man, who barely speaks dubbing him `Radio' and later we learn his name as James Robert Kennedy.
Naturally some prejudices will take place as some of the football-crazed townspeople look at Radio as more of a distraction as the kindly high school football coach lets him help the team.
Set in the south in the late 70's this film portrays the continued existence of racial intolerance back then. The movie itself tugs at the heartstrings. Yes it is emotionally manipulative; nevertheless it's one of those movies that are just enjoyable to watch and we cannot over look Ed Harris's performance as Coach Harold Jones and S. Epatha Merkerson is fantastic as Radio's mother.
Radio, is a crowd-pleasing, heartwarming tale, that is true, not fake lie "The Notebook", so why care if the film is overly drowning in That sappy tear-jerking syrup, cause, it is a true story, a film trying to explain the diffuculties of one's life. The pain he felt. The love he felt when he met such a nice person in the football coach.
I kind of took Radio for granted, and drowned myself in it's syrupy story, and felt for Radio, cared for Radio, and that one Scene , is just so, so painful, you feel shocked how someone can do that. In retospective, many people can and have the capaibilites to do that, and we will never know when, or if that is still happening.
Yet, I do know one thing. What do I know? Tha Radio is a heartwarming,sensationally acted film, that no matter how much you drown in that sappy, tear-jerking syrup, it never feels like a "Nicholas Sparks" film or novel. It also never quite reaches the sappyness of you're standard Melo-Drama, such as "Unfaithful".