Stallone Month: Over the Top

If one happens to be into sentimental crap wrapped in a soundtrack of awful pop ballads, then 1987’s Over the Top might be worth checking out. For the rest of us, should we wish to waste an hour and a half with nothing to show for it but a headache, there’s always a nice game of stud roulette.

Over the Top comes from those auteurs of shitty cinema, The Cannon Group. It was directed by Menahem Golan himself (every shitty movie fan owes it to themselves to learn about The Cannon Group, Golan, and Golan’s producing partner, Yoram Globus) from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Oscar winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.

The film tells the story of Lincoln Hawk (Sly) and his estranged son, Michael (David Mendenhall). Family tensions led Lincoln to walk out on his wife, Christina (Susan Blakely), and son many years back, leaving them to be provided for by Michael’s grandfather, gruff business magnate Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia). It’s never revealed what reasons Lincoln had for leaving, but it’s implied that Cutler was the cause. He’s got a bit of the tyrant in him. If I had to guess, it would be that Cutler never approved of Lincoln’s relationship with his daughter and made things difficult for the two of them. Lincoln is an independent truck driver, and Cutler owns a large trucking business. Perhaps he was once one of Cutler’s drivers, and fell in love with Christina while she was working in the office one summer while home from college. Who knows?

When this movie begins, Christina is in the hospital facing a life or death heart operation. She knows she might not be around much longer, and her biggest wish is for Lincoln to repair his relationship with Michael. She hatches a plan to have Lincoln pick Michael up from military school and drive him home to Bel Air for summer break. That might give them an opportunity to connect.

Michael is having none of it at first. He’s very much on Cutler’s side when it comes to his opinions of his father. He’s wound very tight, refusing to let the military school attitude fade, like some kind of defensive measure against facing the emotions of meeting an unknown father. Lincoln, for his part, is an earnest and nice guy. Besides driving a truck for a living, he arm wrestles for cash at truck stops and in tournaments.

Just when one thought this movie would be strictly about the relationship between a father and son, a lot of fringe athletics is thrown in. Why arm wrestling? Why not? By the time the first arm wrestling scene rolls around, it’s a welcome diversion in a film that was getting way too sappy.

I know nothing about professional arm wrestling. You probably don’t, either. What I do know is that this movie portrays it as a cross between real athletic competition and the showmanship of professional wrestling. Over the course of the film, Sly goes up against a murderer’s row of unhinged freaks who all, without fail, act like they’ve just snorted a bunch of rails.

There’s even a final boss, just like in a video game or a Van Damme flick. In this film, it’s Bull Hurley, played to perfection by Rick Zumwalt. He doesn’t have a whole lot of lines before the final arm wrestling match (in Las Vegas!!!), but when he does let loose on Sly in that climactic scene it’s quite epic.

The whole father-son plot is still playing out at this point, with Cutler even hiring some thugs to try and snatch Michael away from Lincoln. Meanwhile, the plan Christina hatched to get the two to bond actually worked. All that remains is for that bond to repel Cutler’s assaults against it, and for Lincoln to reach the heights of arm wrestling glory.

Over the Top is a colossally stupid movie. Between the terrible soundtrack, which batters a viewer constantly, and Sly’s dopey take on Lincoln, I wasn’t sure if I could get through it, but the arm wrestling takes the movie to a sublime level of cinematic shittiness. Over the Top is better than most of the crap Cannon hit audiences with, believe it or not, but if it had to rely completely on the family plot this would have been too cheesy to sit through. Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Over the Top.