The Dish

on March 16, 2001 by Francesca Dinglasan
   Rob Sitch ("The Castle") directs this comedy that's replete with the dry humor and ironic tone characteristic of any halfway decent Aussie pic. Based on a true story, the film's title refers to a large satellite dish located in the rural Australian town of Parkes. In July 1969, the dish played a pivotal role in transmitting voice and television signals from NASA's Apollo 11 mission--the first time ever that man set foot on the moon.

   The movie depicts the excitement that engulfs the citizens of Parkes when they learn the importance of their dish in bringing the historic event to TV sets around the world. Special pressure falls on four men in charge of operating the dish (Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long and Patrick Warburton), whose quirky personalities fall into neat categories. There's the leader whose strict dedication and seriousness rubs other members the wrong way; the shy one, who is too quiet and meek to ever rock the boat; the smart-ass, whose wise cracks provide comic relief in times of tension; and the sagacious one, who always knows exactly the right thing to say. Together, the diverse group manages to do their part in the NASA mission and bring great pride to the town, despite the obligatory mishaps such as a lost connection with the Apollo because of a power failure and 60 mph winds that threaten to blow the dish over at the very moment of astronaut Neil Armstrong's descent from the vessel.

   With a charming ensemble cast and a script that offers consistent humor from blast-off to landing, "The Dish" delivers exactly what it promises: good-natured, fun fare. Weak points in the film tend to be when it apes elements of previously-released, big budget Apollo mission pics, including an overdone, unrelenting musical score and an attempt to inspire emotions that never quite come to fruition. However, the added local flavor that makes "The Dish" a truly Australian product, such as a scene of cricket being played on the all-important titular equipment, keeps the film from becoming a mere copycat of a Hollywood adventure into outer space (minus Tom Hanks).    Starring Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton and Bille Brown. Directed by Rob Sitch. Written by Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner. Produced by Debra Choate, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Michael Hirsh, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch. No distributor set. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 101 min.

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