Directed by Mike Tollin
Written by Mike Rich
Entering back into the world of football films after playing some end of year catch-up with everything from 2018, and sprinting through awards season, we get to take on this film for the first time. I received some attention upon release, but was not a staple in my childhood household, as something like Remember the Titans was, but it’s not dissimilar. Radio takes place in the south during the 1970s, focusing on high school football. But rather than comment on race relations and the competition on the field, Radio focuses on the ability of people to show love and compassion. What results is an overly saccharine and sentimental view of the relationship between a coach and the retarded man his players tormented.
At TL Hanna High School in South Carolina, football is king, and Coach Jones (Ed Harris) is a well respected leader on the field and in the classroom. But after he catches his players tormenting a man with mental problems who likes to walk by practice and watch, he invites him to participate with the team, considering it to be the right thing to do. As Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.) becomes more and more welcomed, his personality really blossoms and the team and town comes to love him. But his journey is not without road bumps and detours, as not everyone thinks his involvement is best for the team.
I’m not really sure I can call this film offensive, but man is this not very good at all. Filmmaker Mike Tollin, whose other work I’ve seen some of, seems content with telling this tale at the highest of levels. There is a serious lack of detail and subtle touch which makes the film play like a highlight reel with very little context or fuel to make me connect with the characters, their struggles and even their triumphs. Conflict seems manufactured, and resolutions feel forced and inevitable. Which is a shame because this film has its heart in the right place, and being based on a true story, we can only glimpse and imagine what the real relationship between Radio and Coach Jones must have been.
Luckily, we do have the incredibly talented Ed Harris to help guide us through this mess as Coach Jones. His performance helps ground the film and give some semblance of humanity throughout this paint-by-numbers inspirational story. Cuba Gooding Jr. on the other hand, I feel a bit sorry for. I can remember a bit from the comedy Tropic Thunder, where actors are told to “never go full retard”. Well, I’m sure it was at least somewhat inspired by Gooding Jr’s performance here. Not only is the performance awkward, but it doesn’t really afford him much of a chance to shine, relegating him to shy looks and whispered dialogue. The rest of the supporting cast is just as bland.
If it wasn’t for the core of this story, I would say this film is a complete trainwreck, but the heartstrings can’t help but be naturally pulled at least somewhat by the tale, but that is of no credit to Mike Tollin and the film itself. But for that reason, it’s at least passable, if not very disappointing, especially as a vehicle for both Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr., who never seemed to be able to recreate the greatness of his performance in another film included in this marathon, Jerry Maguire. If you’re casually looking for football films to watch, this one can be a pass.