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IN SHORT: An earnest inspirational story that, if you fall in hard, has a stunning end. [Rated PG.]
Once upon a time we had a femme friend who we could always count upon as a perfect guage of whether or not an intended tear jerker / inspirational film had hit its target on the bullseye. We measured the depth of her puddle, so to speak. Of course, if the film really hit the mark, we'd have one of our own. That didn't happen in the case of Radio, but it sure does try. Ditto our own ability to find inspiration in stories "meant" to be inspiring, which is also part of the story construction of Radio, one which it has more luck with. Splitting its focus between the two works a wee bit against the film but it also gives us a better appreciation for the talent of star Cuba Gooding Jr. who so immerses himself in the lead role of a severly retarded kidlet that he, the actor, disappears.
That's a good thing. The only problem is causes us is that, combining a speaking disability (which does improve as the film progresses) and a thick accent puts an invisible audio wall between the screen and the audience. For us, only half of Radio's dialog was comprehensible. Enough that we could follow but it took precious seconds to build contextual maps in our brain and figure it out. That left us out of sync with the story which, if it was an intentional decision by the film makers to get us subliminally retarded, should earn them a hearty slap on the back. We kinda don't think it was intentional but a wall is a wall.
For the record, when we were young we spent a couple of summers in camp. Two of our bunkmates had disabilities. One was missing an eye. One was profoundly deaf and could only communicate by reading lips and squawking back an approximation of the English language -- this in days long before cochlear implants were even a gleam in some scientist's eye. Kids can be monsters to others with disabillities. They can also be remarkable persons as well, given the proper guidance. That is what Radio is about.
We have no idea how much of the "based on a true story" is based on a true story. What is reported at the closing credits is, as noted above, a real stunner but, excepting the fact that the film is based on a true story, there were a number of times when we could have said "Yeah. Right. Saw that coming ten minutes ago."
Radio is the story of a severely retarded boy James Robert Kennedy (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who wanders the streets of Anderson, South Carolina pushing a supermarket cart. It is 1976. His mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) works ten plus hours at the local hospital and does her best. The boy crosses paths with Coach when the former is assaulted -- and we're being kind -- by members of the football team. Coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) is properly severe with his team. He will later nickname the boy "Radio" after his affection for the transistorized machine. Gives the boy a football . . . and if you're thinking " and he becmes a star!" you're well off the mark.
Radio is given a job as ball and towel boy for the team and drives him home after the games. Goes out of his way to try and teach the kid basics of reading and writing, even as principal Daniels (Alfre Woodard) warns Coach about the possible legal ramifications of having a potentially unstable kidlet in the school -- Radio does like to give happy hugs to everyone sees. She's also got the school board breathing down her neck [Frank Clay, father of bully John] which sets up a major plot point in Radio's undeserved conflict with the kid.
Coach has a reason why he goes out of his way to befriend the boy who won't look him in the eye when he doesn't speak to him. We're not going to tell it since he explains it in detail to his wife (Debra Winger). For your purposes, nine members of his team did what comes naturally for idiots, they beat up somene they considered a lesser being. They learn better.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Radio, he would have paid . . .
As something you can take the family to, Radio meets your expectations. Lessons are learned. Minds are raised. As as strict film story, it's doesn't grab your imagination like a bear trap, giving you time to figure out what comes next.
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