leave a comment --Sabrina Rojas Weiss
The heart-warming drama about mentally handicapped individuals who change the way "normal" people think is its own genre, and this film doesn't mess with the formula. Screenwriter Mike Rich and director Mike Tollin simplified and tweaked the true story of a young black man nicknamed Radio (for his vintage radio collection), a sort of assistant/mascot for Anderson, S.C.'s high-school football and basketball teams for more than 40 years. Sometime in the 1970s: Popular football coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) notices a silent young man, Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.), pausing in his meanderings through town with a shopping cart to watch the team practice. After Jones catches star quarterback Johnny (Riley Smith) and his friends tormenting Radio for taking a football, Jones invites him to help out with practices and gradually earns his trust. Radio soon progresses from communicating in tentative, shy grunts to chattering animatedly, bouncing with the cheerleaders on the sidelines and loudly echoing coaches' orders at inopportune times. Meanwhile, Jones neglects his own wife (Debra Winger) and daughter (Sarah Drew) as he becomes increasingly protective of Radio, and barely knows how to answer Principal Daniels (Alfre Woodard) when she asks the question on everyone else's mind. Why is Radio suddenly more important to Jones than anything else, even football? Johnny's father, Frank (Chris Mulkey), thinks Jones' "distraction" is a major problem, perhaps responsible for the team's weak season. But Frank and his son appear to be the story's only source of conflict, and with most of the town feeling all warm and fuzzy about Radio, they never seem a credible threat. And it's odd that race never even appears to be an issue; given the setting, it's incredible that no one says a word on the subject. The heavy-handed score by notoriously heavy-handed James Horner is often the only indication that there's supposed to be a point to this showcase for Gooding's relentlessly adorable mugging. Despite these nagging flaws, Gooding and Harris deliver enjoyable performances, thankfully devoid of cute catch-phrases, but it's a shame that the talented Woodard and Winger are merely used as stock female voices of reason. The film does shine during the football and basketball scenes: Tollin and producer Robbins were behind VARSITY BLUES, READY TO RUMBLE and HARDBALL, and at least on the field and court they know how to make an audience sit up and wonder what's going to happen next.