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
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.