Not as bad as the trailers made it seem, "Radio" is still a rather manipulative and melodramatic "based upon a real story" drama that is greatly aided by a terrific performance from Ed Harris, who plays college football coach Harold Jones. James "Radio" Kennedy, a mentally disabled younger man from the surrounding area, passes by the practice field on his daily rounds, pushing his shopping cart of collected items along in front of him.
Involving himself with the team thanks to a stray football that he collects, the team taunts him at first, locking him in the field's shed and scaring him. The coach, however, becomes committed to trying to involve Radio in the team and making him something of a mascot, which allows the young man to finally have some confidence in himself and be more social. The team takes to him, as well, although the town remains displeased with the addition to the team, as one of the local boosters labels Radio a "distraction".
Meanwhile, coach Jones has a wife (Debra Winger) and daughter at home who care about him, but also feel neglected, as the coach spends more of his time focused on his team than his family. Unfortunately, their subplot is somewhat neglected, as are a few others in this film. Although it's positive that the film skips over some of the usual cliches (it doesn't even really end with a "big game"), it does use some stereotypical aspects of the genre and the film really never tells a cohesive story, choosing instead to just pick out events in Radio's life.
I can't imagine what this film would be in the hands of different actors. Ed Harris takes some fairly cliche lines and adds a sincerity and strength that makes them work. Cuba Gooding, Jr. also turns in an enjoyable performance as Radio, while Alfre Woodard is fine in a small role as the school principal. In terms of the film's technical credits, I greatly enjoyed Don Burgess's glossy cinematography, but found James Horner's score to be too manipulative.
Overall, "Radio" has heart and fine performances, but I thought some aspects of the story were familiar, predictable and could have been better developed.
VIDEO: "Radio" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a mostly beautiful presentation, as Robert Zemeckis's frequent cinematographer Don Burgess bathes the film's already lovely locations in golden light. Sharpness and detail are perfectly fine, as most scenes - including the nighttime sequences - appeared crisp and well-defined.
Colors are bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing. A little bit of edge enhancement and a few trace instances of compression artifacts don't take away from what is otherwise a very nice effort from the studio.
SOUND: "Radio" boasts a surprisingly active Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation that I found quite enjoyable. The football sequences put all speakers to use, with well-recorded crowd noise, occasional sound effects and effective reinforcement of the classic rock score. Surrounds also came into play during some of the quieter scenes for light ambience. Audio quality was excellent, with occasional moments of moderate bass, a dynamic-sounding score and clean dialogue.
EXTRAS: The DVD offers several supplements, including a full-length commentary from Director Michael Tollin, deleted scenes, three "making of" featurettes (a general 21-minute "making of", another about the writing process and a terrific final featurette about the work of the film's sports coordinator), filmographies and trailers for "50 First Dates", "Big Fish", "Radio", "Mona Lisa Smile", "Something's Gotta Give", "Spellbound" and "Rudy".
Final Thoughts: "Radio" has terrific actors who give very fine performances, but it suffers from being a little too sentimental and familiar at times. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides excellent audio/video quality and a few informative supplements. Rent it.
The Film ** 1/2