A review of “Radio” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: * 1/2

Rating: PG for mildly adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes



Color me a cynic, but I like my mawkish melodrama with a lot more substance and a lot less sugar-coating.

Ed Harris skids into career neutral as Harold Jones, a contemplative football coach in Hanna, South Carolina circa 1976.  (70s hit parade shouts out for the duration, in case there’s a doubt).  Jones is your typical athletic director, tough-as-nails on the outside and a soft-touch within, especially when it comes to local mentally challenged teenager James Kennedy (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)

James, aka Radio, pushes a rusty shopping cart filled with scavenged goodies the length of the football practice field, ostensibly fascinated by the game. An incident involving an errant ball forces Jones to take notice. He takes Radio under his wing, much to the dismay of his unforgiving team and the disapproving Hanna residents.  The boy is hired as the team’s unofficial “mascot”, folding towels, carrying water, and standing front and center on the game sidelines. 

Owing to Radio’s dark skin color and his inferior intellectual capacities, the local sages who chew the fat at Del and Don’s Barber Shop don’t like it one little bit.  Turning a blind eye to the prejudice, Jones perseveres.

Things aren’t much better on the home front.  Jones’ fetching teenage daughter Mary Helen (Sarah Drew) can’t fathom her dad’s fascination with this handicapped loner --- she’s a Varsity Cheerleader and her dad doesn’t pay her a lick of attention!

Goodness prevails, and this naturally guileless young man transforms a small South Carolina town with his spark and virtue (cue the violins).

Pivotal plot points can be spotted a mile off, strategically placed for maximum tear-jerking.  The sing-song clichés run thick as molasses, from the hard-headed dad of the bullying jock who fears mental retardation to the mysterious logic behind Jones’ affection for the lost boy.

You can’t fault Gooding this time around.  His performance is honorably sad and gentle.  Harris, capable of greatness, grins and bears the dumbed-down narrative and sappy script. Debra Winger, as Jones’ patient wife, is the real loser; chosen to utter such classic bon-mots as “It’s never a mistake to care for someone – that’s always a good thing” (gag). 

I wanted to enjoy “Radio”.  I was more than willing to wallow in its warmth and the purity of a simpler time.  But I don’t cotton to having syrupy melodrama shoved down my throat, nor do I like it tied up in a stagy and innocuous package.