‘Radio’ plays an inspiring tune

Football is the bonding pastime of countless numbers of Americanmen, but “Radio” takes such personal connections to another levelas it follows two men’s friendship beyond the football field.

The story is centered around the “home-style” Southern town ofAnderson, S.C. where Coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris), the highschool’s head football coach, is the “local God.” Living a lifeconsumed by football, football and more football, thetunnel-visioned coach carelessly neglects his wife Linda (DebraWinger) and Mary Helen (Sarah Drew), his 16-year-old daughter whois growing up fast without her father. Coach Jones continues thisone-track lifestyle of high school sports until he crosses pathswith the town outcast and his squeaky shopping cart.

Nicknamed Radio for his love of music and collection of antiqueplayers, James Robert Kennedy (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) rolls past thehigh school’s football field during a hot August-day practice onlyto find himself taken in by the spirit of the players and the gameof football. Consistently making daily cameos during the team’spractices and weekly appearances at the games, Radio soon changesthe lives and wayward perceptions of Coach Jones, his football teamand the citizens of Anderson.

Besides possessing the gifted duo of Harris and Gooding, “Radio”is also a film that proudly grapples with existing, but commonlyforgotten social injustices experienced by the likes of JamesRobert Kennedy.

Shockingly enough, “Radio” is not as deeply entrenched with theracial issues that one may expect to find in a filmset not too lateafter the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. Instead, the filmfocuses on the prejudices suffered by the mentally challenged atthe hands of those who are not educated about such situations andthe few who do not want to be educated.

Although both characters are distinct in the film, AlfreWoodard’s portrayal of Principal Daniels breaks the mold. Hercharacter is torn between her job and what she knows to be good forRadio’s spirit. Challenged by her friend, Coach Jones, to “do theright thing” and pressured by the townspeople of Anderson to do herjob, Principal Daniels repeatedly finds herself in compromisingpositions that weigh on her professional conscience as well as herloyalty to her longtime friend.

Directed and produced by Mike Tollin (“Hardball,” “VarsityBlues”), “Radio” is based on the true story of the “real” JamesRobert Kennedy. Inspired by an article he came across that waswritten about Kennedy, Tollin was driven to pursue his vision ofmaking a film depicting the man’s life.

The mentor/novice relationship between Coach Jones and Radiotranscended the ignorant attitude of the 1970’s town, and Harrisand Gooding pull off such a relationship beautifully onscreen. Thetwo actors have a refreshing chemistry that adds depth to theironscreen relationship.

In his empathic portrayal of Radio, Gooding’s performance tugsat one’s heartstrings, realistically imitating the voice, gestures,and facial expressions of the mentally challenged protagonist. Hischildlike innocence and surprisingly mature understanding of theworld around him makes one root for his success as an honorarystudent of the high school and acceptance by the onlookers of histown.

With his tough, yet soft demeanor, Coach Jones finds himself themost affected by his newfound friendship with Radio. The familiarsteely gaze of Harris breathes respect into the character of CoachJones and credibility to Harris as an actor.

Supported by the musical expertise of James Horner (“Titanic,””Apollo 13”) and a talented first-class cast, “Radio” shows itselfto be an inspiring film about love, patience and education with ahearty mix of childlike humor and social relevance.

“Radio” can be seen at the National Amusements Jamaica Multiplexat 159-02 Jamaica Avenue or at Cinema City on the Horace HardingExpressway in Fresh Meadows.