The Dish has crashed into the record books as Australia's biggest ever opening-week grosser, and it's easy to see why. Writer/director Rob Sitch (The Castle) has taken an historical event which is traditionally the tale of a triumph of American endeavour (over, let's not forget, those damn pinko Russkies) and turned it into a feelgood charmer about how a bunch of Aussie everymen from The Middle Of Nowhere played a central role in the whole thing.
But it's not certain that The Dish's massive domestic success will spread to other parts of the world. Yank audiences may warm to the cast of almost unrealistically likeable characters, from Sam Neill's pipe-puffing, cardie-wearing "Dish Master" to Tom Long's stuttering computer geek, but they might also take umbrage at the bland, priggish NASA rep (Patrick Warburton, the only American with any sizeable role in the film). Brit audiences, meanwhile, are more likely to agree that Cliff Buxton (Neill) and co achieved something worth cheering about, but will probably wonder if it's all really worthy of a 100-minute movie.
The material here is spread as thinly as it could be, resulting in an over-reliance on original documentary footage and a script that feels the need to remind you every few minutes just how momentous it all really is, because what we're actually watching is just a group of blokes who work under a bloody massive dish.
But only the bitterest of cynics could completely dislike Sitch's follow-up to the similarly successful Oz-com The Castle. There's nothing here that'll have you guffawing your guts up, but after almost instantly warming to the central players you'll probably have a comfy smile slapped across your mug for most of the movie. As power cuts spawn crises, as cricket balls are lobbed across the up-ended dish during recreation time and as the portly town mayor (Roy Billing) peppers his dialogue with amusingly daft comments, there's no doubt you'll be kept cosily engaged. But that's the problem - despite its intentions, The Dish is always engaging but never enthralling.
A lukewarm tale of how small-town achievement helped a nation make history, with big-smile appeal rather than belly laughs. The present-day bookends and sometimes patronising script grate slightly, but there's still much to like in this Antipodean smash.