Over the Top (1987) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some violence
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, David Mendenhall, Robert Loggia, Susan Blakeley, Rick Zumwalt, Chris McCarty, Terry Funk
Director: Menahem Golan
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant, Sylvester Stallone
Review published December 2, 2005
I'm not sure if this film's title is meant to describe an arm wrestling move or Sylvester Stallone's acting style...
Over the Top is quite possibly the creative nadir of Stallone's (Rambo II, First Blood) once flourishing career, and if you've followed his ups and downs, this is saying more than you can possibly imagine. To think that he had at one time been an Oscar nominee for his acting and writing skills, only to write and star in such a lousy vehicle for himself; this would make you wonder if Rocky was just a fluke. Once again, he's playing a guy with a sordid history trying to redeem himself by proving to the world he's no joke, except this time, he's trying to be the champion of the arm wrestling world. Yes, that's right, this film revolves around to world of competitive arm wrestling. Let the giggles, and the yawns, begin.
Stallone plays yet another character with a cool name, Lincoln Hawk, who, years ago, had his head up his rear end when he ditched his wife and young son, Michael, to go off on his own and be his own man, or some such ambiguous story. Hawk now regrets his decision immensely, especially upon hearing that dear old wife is set to undergo a high-risk operation that just might result in their son being without an immediate parent. Robert Loggia (Prizzi's Honor, Scarface) plays the boy's rich and possessive grandfather, a man that has no respect for Hawk whatsoever, and he'll do anything to make sure he stays out of his life, even if it means going beyond the law to do it. Meanwhile, Hawk puts everything on the line in an arm wrestling competition that will not only land him the money for a spiffy new big rig, but also just might get the love and respect of his boy after all.
Thickheaded to the extreme, with the same amount in silliness, Over the Top is, at once, a stupefying example of a film that evokes laughs just by hearing about it, until you actually watch it and find it goes beyond the level of hilarity you expect. Truly, this is abysmally horrid entertainment, grotesquely saccharine and manipulative in all respects, and perhaps most egregious, the motivations of all of the characters make little sense.
Why would a mother want her son to be with a man that dumped them both, and is damn near homeless, especially when her own father has the capability to provide the boy with everything he could possibly want in life? Why does the boy, who expresses little but venom-spewing vitriol for his father from the outset all of a sudden get the warm fuzzies when he finds he has to sleep in the uncomfortable confines of the big rig's front seat? Why does the grandfather, who does everything but put out a hit on Hawk, including offer him a small fortune to leave the boy alone, suddenly, ostensibly, change his tune when he sees the boy ecstatic that big bad papa has a strong arm? Why would anyone really think that a mentally constipated man with little going for his life except to fritter away his time in dives and greasy spoon diners arm wrestling similarly inclined neanderthals could be the ideal parent to raise a precocious and highly emotionally unstable child? Perhaps the biggest question of all - why the hell does the unlikely even of changing the position of ones grip, if one can even do that in a tightly clenched hand battle, make the person that performs it near invincible, and if so, why hasn't everyone else picked up on this small but ridiculously effective technique?
The glib answer to all of these questions is that there is no answer, as there seems to be little effort into making any of this overblown schmaltz into something more than a feel-good tale of ersatz family values. Poorly acted, barely scripted, and about as embarrassing for the cast that worked on it as it is to the viewers watching, Over the Top merely exists today as fodder for 80s nostalgia and little else. While arm wrestling may be a physically and mentally challenging sport that gets little respect in most corners of the world, it doesn't take much brawn or brains to be a winner yourself -- flex that bicep by picking up that remote and changing the channel whenever you see Stallone's open-mouthed, howling grimace appear on your TV screen.
©2005 Vince Leo