Radio review by Mike Long

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When cooking, it's typically a good idea for one to follow a recipe. That way, you'll be fairly certain that the dish will turn out the way that you want it to. However, when filmmakers use a recipe, or formula, they are criticized for being hacks. So, it stands to reason that when a movie diverts from the formula, it can be applauded for originality. But, what happens when a formulaic movie loses the recipe altogether? The result is a disappointing dish like Radio.

Radio is set in Anderson, South Carolina, in 1976. Coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) is in full-swing, getting his Hanna High School Yellow Jackets football team in shape. While at practice one day, he notices an odd young man (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) pushing a shopping-cart down the street. After the football team harasses this man, Coach Jones invites him in for a snack. The man doesn't talk much (or at all, at first), but he seems to like radios, such Jones dubs him "Radio". Radio appears to be mentally retarded, but he is also gentle and meek. Coach Jones invites Radio to come to football practice everyday. Soon, Radio becomes a fixture on the Hanna High football field -- and in Coach Jones life, much to the chagrin of his wife, Linda (Debra Winger) and his daughter, Mary Helen (Sarah Drew). As the Yellow Jackets meet with mediocre success during the season, the townspeople, led by local banker Frank (Chris Mulkey), begin to wonder if Coach Jones is spending too much time with Radio and not concentrating enough on football.

Radio is "inspired by a true story", which means that they took the true story of Coach Harold Jones and James Robert "Radio" Kennedy and condensed it into film form. The resulting movie is very formulaic and plays like many other films where an outsider/challenged person is taken in by someone in the community. However, there either A) wasn't enough drama in Radio's real-life story, or B) screenwriter Mike Rich ran out of ideas, because nothing happens in this movie. (Rich had similar problems with his script for The Rookie and director Mike Tollins and producer Brian Robbins has also worked on another football movie called Varsity Blues, which blew many chances to be original.)

After the first act, the movie goes absolutely nowhere. This won't bother you if Radio is the first movie that you've ever seen, but if you're not new to movies, then Radio is going to bother you. Once Coach Jones befriends Radio, nothing really happens. Having seen films from this genre before, I kept waiting for something/anything to happen -- Radio gets hurt, Radio sabotages something -- but nothing happens. If anything, I thought that the race card would be played at some point, but nope, even that never occurs. When something traumatic does happen to Radio, it comes and goes very quickly and there is no emotion. Actually, the only emotional moment in the film comes during the end credits where the real-life Radio is shown. The movie wastes many opportunities to advance the story, and even comes across as lazy at times, as when Radio's mother says, "doctor's never could give me a name for it...", talking about Radio's condition. To be fair, Harris and Gooding give excellent performances, and Gooding nails the mannerisms of someone with a mental handicap, but it's all wasted. I would normally say that Radio is simply made-for-TV movie fare, but as the superior Mickey Rooney vehicle Bill set the standard for films of this type, Radio doesn't even reach TV-movie heights.

Radio rolls onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The image is very sharp, and for the most part, clear, although there is some fine grain to be had in the daytime scenes. Otherwise, this transfer is quite impressive. The nighttime scenes look great and the football action comes through very well. The colors are fine and the skintones look very natural. There are some mild examples of artifacting, but these aren't bothersome. The DVD Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is nicely done as well. This track delivers clear dialogue and impressive music reproduction. While most of the audio is relegated to the center and front channels, the surround sound speakers come into play during the football game scenes and the tackles are accentuated by well-time subwoofer effects.

This DVD carries several special features. We start with an audio commentary from director/co-producer Mike Tollin, who speaks at length throughout the film, rarely leaving any long pauses. He does a good job of discussing the film's production, highlighting the locations (and how they relate to the real-life locales), the story and the actors. Most of his anecdotes are rather dry, but they are informative. The DVD contains three featurettes. "Tuning In: The Making of Radio" (22 minutes) is a standard "making of" segment which features a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. The highlight here is the footage of the real-life Radio and Coach Jones. (Honestly, they should've just made a documentary!) Radio was initially inspired by an article from Sports Illustrated written by Gary Smith. He's profiled, along with screenwriter Mike Rich in "Writing Radio" (12 minutes), in which they talk about the liberties taken with the real-life story. "The 12-Hour Football Games of Radio" (10 minutes) focuses on sports coordinator Mark Ellis and examines how real-life football players were recruited for the game sequences. The disc contains 6 deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary from Tollin, most of which are very brief and forgettable. Rounding out the extras are the trailer for Radio, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is 16 x 9 and a set of filmographies.

4 out of 10 Jackasses
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