The Dish is a hopelessly square but entirely inoffensive trifle whose only major annoyance is its use of the same cloying flashback-framing device that marred Saving Private Ryan. This true story of the role the small Australian town of Parkes played in the Apollo moon landing mixes archival footage with fictional scenes and, in its search for period detail, lays on the sing-along late- 60s soundtrack a little too thick. The film s title character is a radio telescope the size of a football field that has been erected in a sheep pasture outside of Parkes. The dish is manned by a quaint, quirky three-man crew led by cardigan-and-pipe scientist Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill). The crew spends its days playing cricket on the dish and getting lunch delivered by a comely local lass, but all that changes, sort of, when Parkes is drafted into the Apollo 11 program. It turns out that the city s dish is the only one in the Southern hemisphere large and powerful enough to transmit television signals from the moon, and NASA may need them to ensure that the world gets to see that giant leap for mankind. The Dish is as much about the town as the mission, focusing on one small community s role in history. We meet the mayor and his wife, who are nervous over the impending visits of the Australian prime minister and the American ambassador. We meet the American NASA has sent to join the Parkes team (Patrick Warburton, Putty on Seinfeld), whose Clark Kentish, square- jawed, American professionalism clashes ever so slightly with the laid-back approach of the Australians. A brief electrical shutdown creates a technological crisis for the crew, but there s never any real tension on screen. The Dish is entirely too sunny to allow much conflict. But its squareness might be what saves it. At a time when most American comedies are either dumbed-down (though sometimes hilarious) gross-outs or test-marketed grinds, this Australian film is so honest, affectionate, and good-hearted it s almost refreshing. Almost. In short, The Dish is an honorable little film; it s just not that interesting.


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