say your piece
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
Gooding's Prosthetic Teeth Can't Save 'Radio'
By Jeremy Mathews
  Ed Harris plays off of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s crooked teeth in the tacky 'Radio.'

Columbia Pictures
Directed by Michael Tollin
Written by Mike Rich
Produced by Brian Robbins, Michael Tollin and Herbert W. Gains
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, Riley Smith, Sarah Drew, Chris Mulkey, Bill Robertson and Brent Sexton
Rated PG
(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.

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