Monday, June 05, 2006

Broken radio

(Columbia Pictures, 2003)
Starring: Ed Harris, Cuba Gooding Jr., Debra Winger

The Sacramento Bee
There's static on this 'Radio'
By Joe Baltake -- The Sacramento Bee

Published Oct. 24, 2003
Rating: 2 stars

"Radio" is a cloying feel-good movie about a slow-witted, taunted young man who has been ostracized by his small-minded small town but who finds his worth after he's taken under wing by a caring high school coach. It's the kind of unexceptional film that still manages to muster up some points of interest, none of which, unfortunately, has anything to do with the movie itself.

A case in point: Even though the film is named after the challenged young man and even though Cuba Gooding Jr. gets top billing in that role, the real star of the movie is second-billed Ed Harris who, as the kindly coach, is on screen at least twice as much as Gooding. The movie is less about how poor Radio is shunned by the people of Anderson, S.C., circa the early 1970s, than it is about how Coach Harold Jones becomes a pariah for mentoring the kid.

Also interesting is what actors of the caliber of Harris, Debra Winger and Alfre Woodard are doing in this glorified "After School Special." It's bad enough that the film's unimaginative narrative can barely hold our attention, but we have the added distraction of seeing the estimable Harris, Winger and Woodard frittering away their talents playing banal, cardboard characters.

I never thought I'd see the day when Winger -- once one of our most outspoken actresses, playing one of her infrequent screen roles here as the coach's ignored wife, Linda -- would sit behind a sewing machine, whine about the neglect and say deadly dialogue like, "You're never home."

And giving this character a copy of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" to carry around in a couple of scenes comes across as a cheap, easy way to empower Linda and perhaps placate Winger as a serious actress. There's no evidence that Linda is even reading the book. She just carries it around -- for show.

Then there's the film's misguided ad line: "His courage made them champions." Say what? The character of Radio has a lot of admirable traits, but courage isn't necessarily one of them. His strong suit is his amazing level of tolerance toward people who treat him shabbily and whose behavior is shameless.

After Jones befriends him, Radio -- who is African American -- becomes the school mascot/resident cheerleader at all athletic events, there to make people feel good. He's paraded around and used to do menial chores for the team. The filmmakers seem to be oblivious to the queasy racial aspects of all of this.

Note: Score ratings in bold are Select Reviews, and "( )" the authors cited.