An earlier version of this review was originally published in a Film Forum column at Christianity Today.

Radio is another sport-oriented true-life drama from writer Mike Rich, who wrote The Rookie. Like that film, which was one of 2002’s most rewarding and surprising releases, Radio focuses on the way a community comes together to lift up one individual and help him surmount difficult obstacles.

In Radio, the spotlight falls on a South Carolina high school football coach named Harold Jones (Ed Harris). Jones’s wife, his daughter, his team, and a whole community (minus one wicked banker) assist him in his efforts to help a lonely, misunderstood, mentally disabled person — James Robert “Radio” Kennedy (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) — find friendship and purpose.

The film is significant in that it breaks Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s streak of lamentably bad roles and forgettable performances. Since he won his Oscar for Jerry Maguire, Gooding has signed up for a bunch of awful lowbrow comedies (Rat Race, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip.) Here, however, in a role that could easily have been overplayed, the actor shows remarkable restraint, and makes us care about a young man who needs love. What is more, he becomes an example of unconditional love by the way he responds without selfishness or grudge to those around him who have in the past mistreated him.

But the most striking thing about Radio, at least for this reviewer, is its unconventionally intense concentration on one neighborhood’s charitable endeavors. Most sports movies culminate with “the big game” and a cliffhanger tie-breaker. Here, although there is a montage about the local team’s wins and losses that is framed in the same way as the one in The Rookie, there is very little emphasis on competition. Sports are merely a backdrop, not the main event. Director Michael Tollin — whose last film was Summer Catch with Freddie Prinze Jr. — has his priorities are in the right place as he makes the human drama the center of our attention.

In fact, the lack of any suspense becomes a problem for the movie. Radio oversimplifies its central dilemma — and its characters — so much that there is nothing much to consider or concern ourselves with. We sit secure in the obvious rights and wrongs of the situation, cheer for the nice guys and boo the cookie cutter villain who is uncomfortable with Radio’s acceptance. (Why he is bothered by Radio is not much explored.) And if any uncertainty arises regarding where a scene is going, the music declares for us what our emotional response should be. Despite the fine efforts of Harris and Gooding, Jr., Radio nearly drowns in James Horner’s overbearingly sentimental music.

The Rookie had complex, realistic, believable characters. Radio may be based on a true story, but the supporting players that populate this film seem flat and one-dimensional. Despite its honorable intentions, it practically pounds us on the head with simple moral lessons, and there is an unfortunate lack of things to think about afterward. We’ve had our most basic convictions affirmed, our emotions have been pushed around, and we walk away knowing very little about Radio, his condition, his background, his way of thinking, and the ethical questions regarding how to care for someone like him.