Harris plays off of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s crooked teeth in the
Directed by Michael Tollin
Written by Mike Rich
Produced by Brian Robbins, Michael Tollin and Herbert W.
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, Riley
Smith, Sarah Drew, Chris Mulkey, Bill Robertson and Brent Sexton
(out of four)
Toward the end of “Radio,”
a character says, “It’s not us who have been teaching
Radio. It’s Radio who’s been teaching us.”
If this line alone isn’t enough to convince you of the film’s
quality, rest assured that Radio doesn’t teach his alleged
pupils anything in the 109 minutes of the film that couldn’t
have been communicated in a 10-minute short.
Oh, how I wish this film were a 10-minute short.
The film is about a mentally handicapped young man who becomes the
comic relief pet of the high school football team in a South Carolina
town that’s obsessed with the sport. The term “pet”
should be taken with some concern, but that’s what he is in
the film: a cute form of entertainment, present to make the people
of normal intelligence feel better.
The film is “inspired by a true story” about a man who
still works on the high school team, so hopefully the good intentions
of the real coach—showed with the real, convincing disabled
man at the end—turned out better than those of the filmmakers.
Ed Harris plays coach Harold Jones in an uncharacteristically dull
effort. Harold recruits the initially mute man to help manage the
team after his football players tie him up in the equipment shack
for kicks. The first time he speaks, he says “radio”
when he sees one of the devices, which he’s obsessed with,
so Harold gives him the nickname.
The film opens with Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.) pushing his shopping
cart full of trinkets around the town, often by the school. When
standard-mean-kid-with-athletic-talent Johnny Clay tries to retrieve
a football that went over the fence, that adorable Radio puts it
in his cart and walks off. This prompts the tie-up, and more resentment
when the coach involves Radio in the team’s activity.
Gooding’s performance consists mainly of smiling with prosthetic
bad teeth and doing cute things that emphasize his innocent stupidity—playing
with the pompoms, ordering both types of pie available at the local
diner, handing Johnny the football during halftime when he complains
that he’d like to get the ball a little, etc. It’s supposed
to be funny, but it’s simply depressing that filmmakers think
this kind of pandering is OK.
Since the role requires little more than smiling at one’s
own stupidity, Gooding’s main misstep was taking the role
in the first place (a mistake he makes often—see, or don’t
see, “Snow Dogs,” “Boat Trip” and “Chill
Factor”). Never has a performance been more reliant on false
teeth. While occasionally fruitful at award time, these parts usually
inspire an actor to turn off his best qualities.
It might be heartless to pan a film that wants nothing more than
to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside, but “Radio”
fails not only because it cheats and manipulates, but also because
it’s misguided in its attitude toward the disabled. Sure,
Radio’s forgiveness and compassion are something we can learn
from, but most of the film tries to make it clear that Radio needs
everyone else’s compassion.
If that awful line of dialogue is true, maybe the filmmakers should
have spent more time looking at what Radio contributes and less
time making him look helpless.