After seeing the trailer for Radio, one might think that the film is some sort of amalgam of Remember the Titans and The Waterboy.
"This is actually the anti-Waterboy. We tried to get as far from that sort of film as possible," says director Michael Tollin.
Loosely inspired by a true story, Radio follows a mentally challenged black man who, thanks to the efforts of a high school football coach, becomes a beloved member of the community in a small town in South Carolina. The title character is played by Cuba Gooding Jr.
"You can name your great African-American actors: Denzel, Sam Jackson, Will Smith -- but I don't know if anyone could've done it like Cuba. He's got an innocence and a childlike joy of life. He has fun," says Tollin. After the credibility he's lost for such flops as Snow Dogs and Boat Trip, he'd better be having fun.
Ed Harris plays the sympathetic coach who takes Radio under his wing despite odd glances from the locals and negative feedback from school board officials. Race plays a minimal role in Radio's ridicule and oppression.
The director explains, "We set it in 1976, five years after the schools were integrated. I didn't want to do a movie about race. If it'd been set in the '60s it would've been about race, but I really wanted it to be about something more universal." Apparently, a mentally challenged man in his twenties who becomes a high school football mascot is more universal than racism. Sure, why not?
However preposterous the plot might seem, it is based on a true story, and while the director admits to a good amount of poetic license, the emotion and topic of the film remain true to its source. The major difference between the movie and real life is the compression of events. "What had been spaced out over about forty years was consolidated into one school year," says Tollin, when discussing the creative changes made for dramatic effect.
There are a few truly touching scenes in Radio. Gooding, Jr. succeeds in portraying a mentally challenged individual, and makes Radio a character that people can genuinely like. Still, the film often seems clich‚d and manipulative. It seems at times as though the writers really didn't think the audience was intelligent enough to pick up on the main points of the film. A prime example is the scene in which Ed Harris's character says, "We're not the one's been teachin' Radio. Radio's the one's been teachin' us." Any competent viewer could pick up on this theme without having to be told it.
This film could be worth seeing, depending on your taste. It isn't the deepest or most intellectual movie out there, but the story is well-told. See it with a grain of salt -- just be ready to chuckle at some of the force-fed weepy-eyed dialogue and the excessive heartstring pulling.