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'The Dish': Brimming With Delight

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2001


    'The Dish' Sam Neill, Tom Long and Kevin Harrington in "The Dish." (Warner Brothers)
When man first set foot on the moon, man couldn't catch Neil Armstrong on TV unless man hooked up a radar vantage point in Australia. So, on July 20, 1969, the world observed humankind's cosmic baby steps via a satellite dish located on a sheep farm in Australia. Which, naturally, did Australians right proud.

That's the appealing premise of "The Dish," a lighthearted ensemble movie, starring Sam Neill, that has become one of the highest grossing movies in Australia. Rob Sitch's film observes this Australian chapter in space-travel history from the point of view of the scientists who ran the dish.

When Apollo 11's flight schedule suddenly changes, NASA is obliged to switch its live satellite coverage from the prime receiver in Goldstone, Calif., to the backup receiver in Australia. It's a question of hemispherical position. Suddenly, the 1,000-ton dish in Parkes, New South Wales, becomes the focus of the world.

When uptight NASA representative Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton) flies to Parkes to coordinate the American and Australian teams, he encounters a little cultural turbulence.

The Aussies, led by pipe-smoking Cliff Buxton (Neill) and including sarcastic technician Ross "Mitch" Mitchell (Kevin Harrington), withdrawn calculations expert Glenn Latham (Tom Long) and goofy security guard Rudi (Tayler Kane), definitely do things their own way. They're not big on formal procedure. And one of their favorite pastimes is playing cricket in the giant dish.

The big event also prompts the American ambassador (John McMartin) and the Australian prime minister (Bille Brown) to visit Parkes, which sends hapless Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing) into a minor dither as he attempts to make sure his town rises to this momentous occasion.

The premise, like the moon itself, hovers enticingly above the world of this movie. Whether or not that premise is realized is a matter of taste, of course. But American audiences expecting belly laughs (based on Sitch's very amusing "The Castle") would do well to revise their expectations from comedy to (forgive this horrible film-industry word) dramedy. And anyone looking for Warburton to repeat the hilarious turns he has taken as Puddy in "Seinfeld" and as Kronk in "The Emperor's New Groove" should also adjust their receiving dishes. He's mildly funny here, just one of the boys.

Perhaps "charmedy" would be a more appropriate term for the movie. Very much a nostalgic trip to a pleasant, innocent time, "The Dish" portrays Australians, almost uniformly, as cheeky, straightforward and intrinsically adorable. And it takes unabashed delight in itself and its own culture. Which would certainly explain its domestic success. And for many moviegoers, that feel-good spirit is going to be hard to resist.

"The Dish" (PG-13, 100 minutes) – Contains strong language.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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