Radio teaches us all about love

Oct. 26, 2003, midnight | By Luke Bostian | 20 years, 7 months ago

Problem is, we already know its lesson through and through

Cuba Gooding has made a couple of really terrible movies recently (anyone remember Snow Dogs? Nah, didn't think so.) But in Radio he returns to his Boyz N The Hood form, turning out a dominating performance as a retarded man who wins the hearts of a small town in South Carolina.

Unfortunately, Gooding's turn as James "Radio" Kennedy is the lone shining spot in this otherwise very, very ordinary movie. There's really no other way to describe it than simply ordinary. It had strong points and could have been a much better feel-good movie (à la Remember the Titans), but fell short of real quality.

The movie shoots straight for the heart, playing up the syrupy sweetness of Gooding's innocent, loving, perfect, saintly character (based on a real person, whom we must assume has a few faults) to the absolute maximum grade. None of the characters, in fact, does anything but help prove Radio's goodness, from his protective mother to Ed Harris's Coach Jones, who takes Radio under his wing and nurtures him despite the opposition of evil banker/parent-of-star-athlete Frank Clay, who offsets the good characters.

To be fair to the actors, they don't have much to work with in terms of a script. Little time is allowed for character development beyond the two dimensions necessary to paint the basic picture that director Michael Tollin wants to paint. The story begins without buildup and rockets along for most of the movie with only a few breaks for particularly feel-good scenes.

The plot follows a familiar formula for happy-happy-happy movies. We're introduced to the sympathetic character. We're introduced to his hardships. A comes along and helps him. He grows and the movie is happier and happier until something really bad happens to the sympathetic character. Then everything gets happier and happier again until the end, when we're all so happy we could puke with joy.

On a more nitpicky--but still incredibly irritating--weak point, the direction simply wasn't consistent shot-to-shot. Example: At the beginning we see Gooding pushing his adopted grocery cart down the sidewalk. A woman tells her daughter not to look and starts to pull the girl across the street. The pair enters the road in medium-close-up. The camera angle cuts to an overhead and, once again, the mother and daughter enter the street.

Later, during a football game, a close-up of Coach Jones (Ed Harris) shows his breath freezing in the air. However, the setting IS South Carolina in early fall (not a cold place), and in later shots at the same game there's no frozen breath from anyone.

Also, it seemed as thought some of the scenes did not really end, especially in the barbershop where all the men of the town hang out on Friday nights.

To be fair, the supporting actors do a good job with the material given them. Harris in particular is good as the compassionate, determined, self-assured coach.

But they can't compare to Gooding, whose acting is comparable, and actually better than Dustin Hoffman's celebrated turn as an autistic person in Rain Man. Where Hoffman overacted, Gooding's performance is more measured and believable.

Don't waste your money on seeing Radio in a theater. But if you're in a really sad mood some weekend night and need a cheerer-upper, consider renting this heartwarming (for all my deprecation, I'll admit it did give me goosebumps a couple of times) tale of compassion. Playing all over, Radio is rated PG for one scene at the beginning, where our hero is bound and gagged in a shed.

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Luke Bostian. Luke Bostian is a senior in CAP and has nothing much to say for himself. Well, actually, that's a lie. Luke has a lot to say for himself and says it all the time. So he won't bore you with it. Suffice it to say … More »

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