(PG) 2 starsMy son, Donald, is mildly mentally retarded. We don’t use terms like “developmentally disabled” or “mentally challenged” because people just stare at you blankly until you explain what the term means. As the proud papa of the greatest son in the world, I am always happy to see films that encourage people to incorporate mentally retarded people into their lives.
Radio is one of those films. Unfortunately, it is overly simplistic and too long by about 20 minutes. Oh, and the James Horner score is really syrupy. The acting is good, though. Its biggest asset is that it’s more low-key than most films dealing with retarded people. Its biggest liability is that it’s so low-key that it feels like a TV movie blown up for the big screen.
In 1996, Gary Smith wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about a mentally retarded man named James Robert Kennedy, nicknamed Radio because of his collection of radios. SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING REVEALS INFORMATION ABOUT THE REAL RADIO THAT MAY PLAY A PART IN THE FILM. A resident of Anderson, S.C., he has been a fixture at high school football games for decades, helping out at practices and on the sidelines at games, and juicing up the crowds. Befriended by a series of coaches and players, his is a story with a happy end. END SPOILER ALERT.
Assigned to turn the article into a screenplay, writer Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) travels a well-worn path. His take focuses on Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and just one coach, Harold Jones (Ed Harris). After some of the boys on his football team abuse Radio, Jones convinces him to hang around and makes sure that he is treated well.
Gradually, most people get used to Radio and he becomes part of the school community and, to a lesser extent, the general one. Meanwhile, Radio’s mother, Maggie (S. Epatha Merkerson), at first leery of the coach and his efforts, becomes friends with the man.
Of course, there must be conflict, so the script has the coach paying loads of attention to Radio while offering little to his own daughter (Sarah Drew). Jones’ supportive wife Linda (Debra Winger) reminds him of this often. But the big drama is generated by a creepy banker (Chris Mulkey) whose son (Riley Smith) is a quarterback. He resents the coach and tries to get other parents stirred up over the idea of a mentally retarded man hanging around their children, forcing the principal (Alfre Woodard) into the fray.
The situations are contrived (especially the coach’s obsessive behavior), but the acting is good across the boards. Radio is well-intentioned and mildly entertaining, but the best part of the film is the footage of the real people at the end.