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Radio (PG)
Official Site
Director: Karim Aïnouz
Producers: Isabel Diegues, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Donald K. Ranvaud, Marc Beauchamps
Written by: Karim Ainouz
Cast: Lázaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui, Felipe Marques, Emiliano Queiroz, Renata Sorrah, Giovana Barbosa, Ricardo Blat

Rating: out of 5

The only factor that differentiates Radio from other “underdog overcomes obstacles” sports movies is that it is inspired by a true story. However even this distinction is diminished by other based-on-a-true-story films such as 1993’s Rudy. Radio is formulaic and the plot is none too original.

The underdog of course is Radio ( Gooding), a shy, mentally challenged man who is misunderstood by the townsfolk of Anderson, South Carolina, until football coach Harold Jones ( Harris) decides to take him on as an assistant. Coach Jones befriends Radio, believes in Radio, and stands up for Radio against all opposition. Under these circumstances, Radio flourishes and becomes the darling of the town.

In these kinds of movies, there is always a lesson to be learned, and in Radio there is nothing subtle about doling out the moral. Before Radio came along, Coach Jones had been neglecting his wife ( Winger) and daughter ( Drew) for football. Furthermore, ball-player Johnny Clay ( Smith) cared more about accumulating statistics than playing as a team, and the townsmen wanted to win football championships more than they cared about helping others. Radio comes into their lives and with sudden enlightenment, everyone realizes they have been in the wrong. It comes as an unnecessary, although not surprising, development that the movie culminates in a speech by Coach Jones in which he pronounces “we’re not the ones who’ve been teaching Radio, Radio’s the one who’s been teaching us.”

Assisted by a score from James Horner, Radio is carefully calculated to manipulate our emotions. Consider the scene in which Radio is not allowed on the bus to an away game for fear that he might be a distraction to the players. It’s a sad moment, to be sure, one that the movie emphasizes with heavy rain. Then, to show just how loyal Radio is to the Hanna Yellow Jacket football team, we see Radio propping up his radio under the bleachers and enacting each play alone on the muddy field as it is announced.

I have read the story of the real James Robert “Radio” Kennedy and his impact on T. L. Hanna High School and the Anderson community. It is touching and inspirational. What amazed me the most was the longevity of Radio’s commitment, and how ever since 1976 he has been dedicated to the school that first accepted him into their community. This movie tries to capture the essence of that story but tries too hard by condensing the timeline into one year. The added dramatic scenes and contrived tuggings of the heartstrings only work to make this movie just like any other one.

Cuba Gooding Jr.’s performance as Radio is nearly believable. Albeit nowhere close to Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Gooding brings a certain charm to his personification of Radio, and we are able to laugh and smile and cry with him. S. Epatha Merkerson brings a beautiful performance as Radio’s mother, whose patient love gives Radio’s character a new dimension. From her we can finally understand where Radio’s generosity and love comes from.

—Kelly Hsu

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