Cuba Gooding Jr. as James Robert ‘Radio’ Kennedy
Ed Harris as Coach Harold Jones
Debra Winger as Linda Jones
Alfre Woodard as the Principal
Riley Smith as Johnny Clay
Sarah Drew as Mary Helen Jones
S. Epatha Merkerson as Maggie
Chris Mulkey as Frank Clay
A feel good movie about how a high school football coach changed the life of mentally impaired James Robert ‘Radio’ Kennedy.
In 1976 Anderson, South Carolina, mentally challenged James Robert Kennedy was pretty much on his own every day as his mom worked long hours at a hospital. He would make frequent trips past the high school and see the football team practice. Coach Harold Jones invited him to help the team and started taking care of Radio, his nickname because of his love for music and his radio. Radio would become very involved with the sports programs and even sat in the Coach’s class during the day. However, some townsfolk blamed Radio for distracting the football team and their so-so season, plus other incidents at the school made them believe what the Coach was doing was not right. Inspired by a true story, the film shows how Harold Jones and Radio changed the town forever.
“Radio”, from director Michael Tollin and writer Mike Rich, is a fictionalized story based on the true life of James Robert Kennedy. While some things in the movie are very “Hollywood”, you get the general feeling that most of these events could have happened to the man. And although the film involves football, luckily we’re not treated to the same old story about a losing team pulling it out in the last minute and winning the championship. This one’s about the characters.
Of those characters, I was most impressed by Ed Harris’ potrayal of the Coach. Although a bit more subdued in perhaps some of his other roles, Harris convinces that he truly cares about Radio and that we will do anything to keep him from being put away. I think the Oscars might look his way with yet another nomination (isn’t it time he won one?!). Cuba Gooding Jr. was great as Radio, but a problem I had is that I just remembered too many of his previous roles. It was too hard to forget about Cuba, the actor, when seeing him play a mentally challenged person. For example, when I saw Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, I really believed in the acting because I hadn’t seen his previous work. There’s nothing wrong with Gooding’s acting, it was just hard to get passed that.
Of the supporting cast, Alfre Woodard played a good principal, who cared for the kids but also about what’s best for the school. Chris Mulkey works as the town ‘baddie’, as does newcomer Sarah Drew in her role as the daughter, Mary Helen Jones. I was expecting a bit more from Debra Winger, who plays the coach’s wife. Her husband doesn’t spend any time with the family and starts taking care of Radio instead. Though she seems to mind, there’s not a whole lot of emotion there.
James Horner’s music makes the scenes too sappy most of the time. The score comes up when it would have been just as good to have the characters talking without any distractions. The score itself is nice, it’s just not used right.
If you can forget about the “Hollywood” in the film, and think of the true events, you will probably be touched by the story.