review for Radio on AllMovie

Radio (2003)
by Derek Armstrong review

Cuba Gooding Jr. is famous for the poor quality of his post-Oscar work, so it was natural to assume that his performance as a mentally handicapped football assistant would be all bug-eyed caricature. It's definitely possible to quibble with some of his facial expressions, but Gooding actually underplays more scenes in Radio than he overplays. That leaves the movie on the whole in the range of B to B+ material. Good for a hankie or two -- with the right audience -- it's mid-level inspirational stuff that's delivered competently, but with little distinction. Radio does earn some credibility by being based on a real person, James Robert Kennedy, and the fact that it doesn't just follow the typical sports movie arc of seeing the team through one memorable season. Director Mike Tollin has been around a ton of sports movies in his day, so it's to his credit that Radio is more about how a special individual -- in the least condescending sense of that word -- impacts a whole town, rather than a specific athletic program. (Radio also walks the sidelines for the boys' basketball team). The central issues are the same as they would be for any group trying to seamlessly integrate someone who's intellectually different -- how to encourage him and give him a place without allowing his suggestible judgment to endanger either himself or others. In the role of Radio's champion and surrogate father, Ed Harris is a bit too saintly to effectively personify this central tension, but he does such likeable work that he's also not worth criticizing. Radio will please a lot of skeptics simply for the fact that it mostly avoids maudlin scenes and emotional manipulation. However, it doesn't rank especially high as either an underdog sports movie or a complex consideration of the mentally disabled.