Over The Top (1987), or The Fine Art Of Face-Straining

24 07 2009

What’s that, you say? You’ve NEVER heard of Over The Top? What are you, a commie?!?! Well, get the fuck out of here, comrade, ‘cuz these colors DON”T RUN! Everyone else, feel free to stay and bask in the glory of what might be the most superfluous 80s film I’ve seen in a while. Now, I’ve never been much of a sports fan. I pretty much wither and turn into a dried-out corn husk whenever I hear about sporting events, only to be revived when someone brings up comic books or foreign cinema. But in the 80s, they did something that garnered even MY attention. They made whole movies about fringe sports, things like MMA (Bloodsport), female bodybuilding (Pumping Iron 2: The Women), and bouncing (Road House), sports that wouldn’t become popular until much, much later. It was in this weird nexus of outsider sports that I discovered the fun and excitement of Over The Top, a touching story about a man named Hawk (or Hawks?) who wants to win the love of his son by destroying men in competitive arm-wrestling. Kind of. Let me explain.

Lincoln Hawk(s) is a simple trucker with only a few talents. One of them is loving his wife and estranged son, Michael. Unfortunately, his wife is dying and his estranged son is in military school. Dying wife Christina suggests that Hawk(s) pick up his son and take him for a cross-country drive to get to know him better. Michael is dubious of this notion, and is highly aloof at first. But the two soon warm up to one another, especially when Michael learns of his dad’s other cool talent, arm-wrestling. He’s really, really good, and makes a fair amount of money that way. His goal is to make it to the World Championship in Vegas and win the grand prize, a shiny new 18-wheeler (!!!!!), with which he could be in business for himself. But every plot has to have a conflict, so enter Jason Cutler, wife Christina’s dad who always hated Hawk(s) and thought his daughter deserved better. During the trip he makes contact with Michael and attempts to dissuade him from rekindling a relationship with his father. Will Michael listen? Will Hawk(s) be able to stop Cutler before he’s gone too far? Can he really win that beautiful new 18-wheeler with one hand tied behind his back?

Perhaps the ultimate (i.e. only) film about professional arm-wrestling, Over The Top is only marginally about the sport. Much to my displeasure, it’s all about this sappy father-son bonding stuff. Let me be clear; I LOVE parental bonding in film. It’s great. No problem there. But take a look at the movie poster:

Arm-Wrestling or performing LAMBADA: THE FORBIDDEN DANCE? You decide!

Arm-Wrestling or performing LAMBADA: THE FORBIDDEN DANCE? You decide!

How much father-son bonding do you see here? I MAINLY see two guys arm-wrestling, followed by Stallone leading his son out to the desert (presumably to die), followed by the far-away image of a truck, the linchpin to the whole damn enterprise! I was watching under the notion that I was in for a delightful romp through Bicepville, when in reality it felt more like a version of Dutch that required Ed O’Neill to gain 50 lbs of muscle for the titular role.

I gotta say, though, that I liked it all right. It’s nothing very intelligent, or even extraordinarily incompetent. It’s mildly bone-headed, a comfortable medium. Stallone as Lincoln Hawk(s) is about as kid-friendly as he’s going to get here without buying the kid a fucking robot like in Rocky 3, but he STILL doesn’t look comfortable around a child. He eyes Michael sometimes like the kid’s his next meal! It could be a sure sign that family movies aren’t your forte, Stallone! But the cinematography wasn’t bad, the action is plentiful enough, and the bad guys are cartoonishly bad! Watch how Stallone’s opponents howl when they’re on the verge of defeat. It’s probably because they’re embarrassed at losing to a guy that small. I mean, honestly! Hawk(s)’s last opponent looks like a walking, talking hyperbole! He’s massive! They probably had to put Stallone in a booster seat to reach this mountain man’s arm. A lot of humor comes from these grandiose arm-wrestling matches though, and even though there wasn’t enough of them, I relished every big, dumb, sweaty moment.

And a quick note: does anyone out there in Internetberg know whether it’s Hawk or Hawks? His last name is constantly being either mispronounced or disregarded by the cast and crew. I don’t know how they want it pronounced, so I’m just gonna pronounce it Stallone.

There’s honestly not much more to say unless you’d like me to start a joke review here on the exquisite vicissitudes of Stallone’s performance. It’s ironically a fluff movie about hard-bodied dudes arm-wrestling for a new semi (oh, and a father trying to win his son’s love). There’s not much in here besides okay performances, an okay plot, and hilarious arm-rasslin’ bouts, and once I have to resort to using the word “okay” more than once, I think it’s time for me to hang up the elbow guard and call it a day. Watch it for the sheer fact that if you thought tiny little Rocky Balboa beating up people like Clubber Lang was ridiculous, you don’t yet know the meaning of the word! I give Over The Top 5 1/2 Hawk(s)s out of 10. Now I feel like a Kentucky-Fried Idiot…

Come back tomorrow for another 80s fest with Masters of The Universe! Where do I come up with all this?!?!?!

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