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There will be many, many of you out there who will go see Radio, and love it.

Your hearts will be warmed by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s portrayal of Radio, a mentally handicapped man who becomes the heart and soul of a South Carolina high school. You'll get choked up when Ed Harris, as the school's gruff head football coach, befriends Radio and learns about acceptance and caring. Your eyes will sting when Harris' Coach Jones reluctantly leaves Radio behind as the team boards the bus for an away game; and boy oh boy, you'll burst into whopping big tears when Radio faces the biggest tragedy of his life.

This is exactly what they want you to feel.

They want you to be so distracted by Gooding's admittedly excellent performance, that you don't notice the weak story and plodding pacing. They want you to get all mushy inside when Coach Jones brings joy to Radio's empty life without realizing that he doesn't have to sacrifice or struggle to do so.

When James Horner's score sighs and swells, you're meant to go all gooey, and ignore the fact that the music is underscoring nothing. There is no drama here. What we have instead is a shameless Hollywood tearjerker designed to push all of our buttons. It's Rudy and Remember the Titans stirred in with ample doses of Forrest Gump.

The Hollywood Cuisinart is out there, predigesting your movie so it goes down easier.

And audiences will eat it up. They'll walk out of the theatre inspired to be nicer to their fellow man, or call their moms, or whatever. This sounds good, but it won't last. Most will forget the resolutions they made during the credits; they'll forget Radio's sweet, simple message, and they'll return to their old puppy-kicking ways. Because no matter how much it wants to be, Radio is not the kind of movie that changes lives.

Although the movie is titled Radio, the real hero of the piece is Coach Jones, a tough, fatherly high school football coach. He's respected by his team, idolized by the town, and adored by his lovely wife and daughter. Although he has a tendency to neglect his family during football season, his wife is so understanding, it never becomes an issue.

Radio has been a fixture of the town, passing by the high school pushing his shopping cart for years. After an ugly incident where some members of the football team harass him, Coach Jones takes a personal interest in the young man, christening him "Radio" since at first it's the only thing he can get him to say.

To the chagrin and concern of both the team and the school's principal, played by Alfre Woodard, Radio starts attending games, football practice, and even assisting the coach in class. Though at first most are wary, a musical montage shows Radio gaining acceptance from nearly everyone in town.

We even get a sequence where Radio teaches a grouchy cop the true meaning of Christmas. Hooray.

The biggest flaw in the structure of the film is its almost total lack of conflict. Every time an obstacle comes up it is immediately dealt with, with a minimum of fuss. Coach Jones is clearly doing the right thing for the right reasons, though it means he spends less time with his family, they don't mind, 'cuz they love Radio too. The villain of the film, the win-at-all-costs father of one of the football players, never seems to be an actual threat to Radio or Coach Jones. Even when the possibility of Radio being sent to a home rears its head, the problem is swiftly resolved off screen. I kept waiting for some major plot point or conflict to occur, and it never did.

I should point out, for those who don't know, that Radio is a true story. Radio and Coach Jones are both alive and well and living in South Carolina. Perhaps the filmmakers were so concerned with being faithful to the lives of these people that they were unwilling to write any real drama into the movie. As it stands, Radio lacks the conflict to make a decent feature film. It's a sweet story better suited to The Wonderful World of Disney.


Marin Carpenter

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