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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Radio
Radio
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // January 27, 2004
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 20, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Set in the mid-1970s in Anderson, South Carolina, Radio tells the story of James Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a mentally-challenged man known simply as "Radio" who, through the affection and attention of high school coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris), rises above his lowly stature to become one of the most revered institutions of the town. Inspired by a Sports Illustrated story written by Gary Smith, Radio spans several years of Radio's life and endeavors to become the type of feel-good inspirational movie that teaches all of us valuable life lessons. Throughout the picture we see Radio go through various episodic misadventures that demonstrate his transition from lowly town joke to beloved mascot and friend to all.

Cynics love this kind of stuff.

What happened to us as a society? Is it too hard to believe in the simplicity of things? Is it impractical to believe in magic? Where's the love for uplifting, heartfelt emotions that don't try to overwhelm or bedazzle us with complexity and subtlety, but rather appeal to our basest and most natural of instincts? Why is that every time we encounter a film that attempts to showcase how the lowliest among us can still have value, still be functional members of society, and still teach the rest of us - the so-called "normal" people - lessons about life and proper perspective, that we immediately heap upon said film mountains of scorn, contempt, cynicism, and ridicule?

The answer, of course, is that many of these films end up as awful as Radio.

First, the good points: Ed Harris gives a fantastic performance as Coach Jones. Although the film never properly explains why he retains such an interest in Radio's well-being, he instills his character with both strength and tenderness. Every frame he's in reeks of veritas. Cuba Gooding Jr. acquits himself well as the title character, although the seams show around his performance. Gooding is more effective in more boisterous roles, and his inherent kineticism is visible throughout the part. It's a very good performance, but it always seems like a performance, and it's occasionally jarring. Debra Winger has a small but well-played part as Linda, Jones's wife, and every time she's on-screen I wonder why this wonderfully talented actress isn't getting more roles. And as usual, the great Alfre Woodard is nothing short of incredible as the school's principal.

No, the acting talent in this film is fine. The script seems lifeless and cliché in comparison. The film's episodic nature gives the narrative no operative thrust. Various events in Radio's life are touched upon in small vignettes that come one after another until the film has nowhere to go but to wrap things up at the end. Michael Tollin directs his actors well but the movie simply has no flow. The decision to drench many of the film's maudlin scenes with saccharine, pseudo-inspiration orchestrations is unintentionally laughable. Furthermore, we have stock situations that are rooted in so many contrived and dog-eared plot devices (the neglected wife and daughter, the obnoxious football player with a prominent father, etc.) that, even if many of them do not pan out to be of severe consequence, mire the film in sentimental, movie-of-the-week territory.

Radio is a sweet film but it is also a stilted, lifeless, and often overwrought movie that is so eager to please, inspire, and warm the heart that it loses its narrative footing and never quite recovers.

The DVD

Video:

Radio is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing whoop-de-doo. This is a fantastic transfer. The daytime scenes seem to glow with a golden brightness that evokes yesteryear, while the nighttime scenes are beautifully dark and rich while sporting fantastic shadow detail. Colors are brilliantly rendered, even among the drab scenes that display more muted schemes. Image detail is sharp and finely rendered. Contrasts are spot-on, with excellent range and no discernable edge-enhancement or noise. This is simply a good-looking film throughout.

Audio:

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation is as impressive as the video. The six-channel mix provides a spacious, enveloping soundstage which is used both affectively and appropriately throughout the film. Surround activity is very aggressive, especially during scenes featuring the film's raucous 70s-rock soundtrack or the various football/basketball games. LFE is used smartly, giving emphasis without becoming overbearing. Dialog levels are clear and bright, easily discernable without hiss or distortion.

Extras:

Director Michael Tollin provides a feature-length director's commentary, and speaks enthusiastically and at length throughout the film's running time. Although his low-key delivery often seems a little dry, he provides a wealth of information about the film, including the actors, the script, production anecdotes, and comparisons between the film and the real-life story of Radio.

There are three featurettes included on this disc. Tuning In: The Making of Radio is a twenty-two minute "making-of" feature that brings together many of the film's cast and crew, as well as the real people who inspired the story, to give their thoughts about the movie. It's a glossy but informative look at the film. Writing Radio runs twelve minutes and primarily features screenwriterMike Rich, director Michael Tollin, and writer Gary Rich, who penned the original Sports Illustrator article that inspired the film. The 12-Hour Football Games of Radio runs for nine minutes, and details how the various games presented in the film were coordinated and choreographed during the movie's production.

There are also six deleted scenes, each of them viewable with or without the director's commentary. Also included are filmographies for director Michael Tollin, writerMike Rich, and actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Debra Winger, and Riley Smith. Finally, there are trailers for Radio and other Columbia/Tristar films, including 50 First Dates, Big Fish, Mona Lisa Smile, Something's Gotta Give, Spellbound, and Rudy.

Final Thoughts

Radio was definitely not my cup of tea. I can enjoy an inspirational story as much as the next monkey, but the film simply failed to engage me as a viewer. So while the film failed me as a movie, the DVD is pretty fantastic in and of itself. The video transfer and the audio mix are simply superb - Columbia should be commended. Furthermore, there are a host of fine extras on this disc: an informative commentary, over forty-minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and trailers. Radio might not be a huge, stuffed-to-the-gills two-disc special edition behemoth, but it delivers the goods in a fine presentation and provides a good selection of extra material. Recommended for fans of the film, others should definitely give it rental first.

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