Published Oct 01, 2003After a string of forgettable performances verging on irritating in films like Rat Race, Snow Dogs and The Fighting Temptations, Cuba Gooding Jr. has at last a project that demonstrates the acting chops that won him the supporting actor Oscar back in 1996. It's just too bad that the rest of the film can't back him up. The problem isn't with Ed Harris either; he is remarkably well cast as the thoughtful Coach Harold Jones. Maybe it was just misrepresented as a passionate movie in the previews.
Radio is not really about football, despite what the previews may lead you to believe. It's not really about sports at all. It's about the relationship between a high school football coach and a mentally-challenged young man, and it is, of course, based on a true story. In small town South Carolina in the '60s, where barbershops serve as the town meeting place for the men who make the decisions, the adept Coach Harold Jones studies football plays in his evenings and spends his afternoons working his team. Every afternoon the mentally-challenged James Kennedy pushes his shopping cart past the field and every afternoon Jones watches him go by. When one day Jones finds Kennedy bound and cowering inside a shed that the football boys have been kicking, Jones tries to make it up to Kennedy by having him help out at practice. Kennedy doesn't tell them his name, but because he shows an interest in radios, they call him Radio. Befriending Radio goes beyond having him cheer on the team, as soon the entire school grows to know and love him. But not everybody in town likes him. Those with a fever for the state football championship call him a distraction.
The problem is that this film isn't as powerful as it should be. One thing askew is the miscasting of Debra Winger as Jones's wife. Winger's personality is too big for this diminutive wallpaper role. There's also a lack of insight into Jones's family life. He spends more time with his football team than at home, that much is clear. That he has a shadow of a relationship with his daughter is also clear. Why she doesn't seem to mind that much, or to be resentful of her father's intense relationship with this person she barely knows, is not as certain.
There are just too many slow points in the film, with a lot of time set up on conflicts and not as much on the resolution. The focus on the relationship between the men is so complete that it makes it almost uncomfortable to watch Coach Jones seemingly neglect his family. And though the reason behind his intense need to help Radio is eventually illuminated, by then you've already missed most of the chance to get to know any of the other characters. A sweet film, still it's something you'll only want to see once. (Columbia)