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Cuba Gooding Jr. demonstrates blatant disregard for the "Removing carts is a crime" sign at the grocery store.

© 2003, Sony
All Rights Reserved

In an intense, football-obsessed South Carolina town in 1976, Coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) is attempting to mount another winning season for his high school team. Crashing practice one day is James "Radio" Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a mentally challenged man who is curious about the team. After witnessing his players harass Radio, Coach Jones starts taking a liking to the man, and invites him into his world of classrooms and life lessons. Forming a strong, long-lasting friendship, Coach Jones begins to integrate Radio into the town, finding resistance and trepidation at every turn.

It's tough to not be a cynical bastard in dealing with a film such as "Radio" (IMDb listing). This is a terribly warm story, overflowing with welcoming messages of tolerance and acceptance. Who doesn't want that? But "Radio" isn't a film based in subtle notions. The picture is a gigantic crowd pleaser, using every trick in the cinematic book to get the audience on its side, often stooping pretty low to do so. Is it successful? Sure. There will be a good percentage of the audience who will leave the theater with a newfound feeling of optimism. But it's a battle fought dirty.

The film has rather dry, poor cinematography, rendering South Carolina as some kind of barren, chilly autumn wasteland. It features a surprisingly weak, bored performance from Ed Harris. The score is as manipulative as music can get, incessantly underlining each emotional beat with extreme prejudice. Ultimately, the film boils down to Radio. A character based on a real man, Gooding's Radio is an easy-to-swallow representation of the mentally challenged. There is no downside to Radio. He is always around, constantly cheering people up and spreading his message of joy to all the townsfolk - a message he has no clue about, mind you. He's the prototypical simpleton character, and "Radio" is shameless in parading him around. I can only imagine the real Radio is a sweet, generous character, but anchored in very real-world concerns. The silver screen Radio is a more magical creation, void of any of the real problems that would normally accompany his mental challenge. I blame the shameless screenplay more than Gooding, who does a fine job recreating the exterior of Radio, who we see in the film's closing credits.

The rest of the picture is a checklist of clichés, most notably the evil white southerner (played by Chris Mulkey) who doesn't want Radio anywhere near his beloved local sports teams. "Radio," not unexpectedly, isn't made with nuance in mind. I had hoped for a greater understanding between the characters rather than speeches and moral nuggets self-righteously passed out to the masses. "Radio" means well, and that's important, but it lacks character development. By the time you get to the infamous line, "We weren't teachin' Radio, Radio was teachin' us." It becomes clear that the film was never interested in educating after all.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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