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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Radio

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris
Director: Mike Tollin
Rated: PG
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Riley Smith, Sarah Drew, Debra Winger, Chris Mulkey, Brent Sexton, Craig S. Harper, Alfre Woodard

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4

As first clarinet in my college band, I went to all of our football games during freshman and sophomore years, but to my eternal discredit, I never attended a single high-school scrimmage during my all-too-long career as a secondary-school teacher. This may have to do with my coming from a large urban center, where distractions other than movies include choices of what to see including the New York Giants, the Yankees, the Knicks, and sundry sporting events taking place at Madison Square Garden, Shea Stadium and (in the good old days) Ebbets Field. Things are different in small towns. In a South Carolina town in 1976 where "Radio" takes place, watching and yammering about high-school football is what it's about whenever "All in the Family" is not on TV. Folks there from all walks of life like bankers, barbers, and pensioners would chill at the barber shop just like the people in Tim Story's movie last year about a threadbare gathering place where you'd scarcely know that hair is being cut if you didn't see the colorful blood-and-bandages pole spinning outside.

Michael Tollin, using a script by Mike Rich, takes us back to a typical southern American town in 1976 where the populace, lacking cellphones to communicate with disembodied souls, choose instead to face one another in the local barber shop and chat about their favorite topic: the high school football team coached by Harold Jones; where most intensive political discussion was not about Jimmy Carter but about one James Robert Kennedy, nicknamed Radio because of his fascination with the music emanating from a collection product decidedly not of high fidelity caliber.

While most young people today would not dream of collecting 45's and LP records or even store-bought disks but would instead discuss the latest punk or rock lyrics they'd burned onto a CD, Radio was perfectly content with the simpler things in life such as riding down highways on a supermarket cart, but his simple tastes were not inspired by Henry David Thoreau whose name he'd probably not be able to pronounce, but by his mental retardation.

Catching Radio in various awkward poses, Michael Tollin lays on the schmaltz In this feel-good audience pleaser and often sounds preachy, particularly when he turns up James Horner's stirring music, but given stellar performances by Ed Harris in the role of Coach Jones and Cuba Gooding this year's Rain Man. Radio is fortunate in not having spent a day of his life in an institution. Though his concerned mom Maggie (S. Epatha Merkerson) works long hours and hopes for the best, her boy spends his days alone with only a cart for company, until Coach Jones comes along. Because of a secret guilt he reveals to his daughter deep into the story, Mary (Sarah Drew in a debut performance), Coach takes such an interest in Radio that even in the midst of a challenging football season, he spends considerable time introducing him to the team, to the greater Anderson, South Carolina society, and while keeping him out of trouble as best he can, appoint Radio his assistant manager in charger of folding towels, fixing the balls so the writing is visible and making himself increasingly popular with the community.

Though we do not have to sit through yet another pic about a sports team that comes from behind and wins a stunning victory in the final seconds of play, the plot is formulaic, well suited for cable but not lost on the big screen. In fact what the theater screen gives us better than a 36-inch set is the feel of small town Americana years after segregation of southern teams and classrooms is history, where people of all ages and walks of life meet in the barber shop discussing local politics as though in a New England town meeting. The villain is not a ferocious one but appears as the town's banker and leading citizen, Frank (Chris Mulkey) who (wouldn't you know it) is the father of the school's leading basketball player and ace quarterback, Johnny Clay (Riley Smith). Frank wants only to send young Radio on his way somewhere, anywhere, because he considers the lad a distraction: a guy who could and, in at least one instance may have helped cause the footballers to lose a game.

And wouldn't you know that Johnny Clay leads Radio into big trouble invading a girls' locker room but is turned around by Radio's now-sunny charm enough to present him with a terrific gift and pat him sincerely on the back?

"Radio" is uplifting drama, a straight story told with a beginning, middle and end, focusing on a middle-aged mentor who learns to give his wife, Linda (Debra Winger) and daughter, Mary, the attention they deserve while still following the progress of a mentally challenged fellow who scarcely says a word until he is discovered by the coach and ends up a guy you couldn't get to shut up. The film, blessed with solid performances and some good sports action, concludes with the filming of the real coach and actual Radio, the latter having become a fixture on the town's football fields for decades.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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