Set in the mid-1970s in
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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.