OVER THE TOP~ Menahem Golan, 1987, USA
Over The Top tells the story of Lincoln Hawk (played by Sylvester Stallone,) a trucker on a quest to win a world championship arm wrestling tournament, and in the process, reconcile his relationship with his son, whom he abandoned the shit out of a decade prior. Along the way, Hawk must contend with cartoonish arm wrestling thugs, as well as his wealthy and corrupt father in law, played by suitably cranky old Robert Loggia, who uses his vast fortune to attempt to bully Hawk into handing over custody of his son. With mounting money problems, Hawk sees the World Championship as his only opportunity to turn it all around. So, in summation, what the hell?
What the hell, indeed.
Now, Lincoln Hawk isn’t the biggest guy on the arm wrestling circuit- but he’s the one to beat. Why? Because he’s invincible. He’s a hard working, honest trucker with a super patriotic name, and he exists in a Sylvester Stallone movie. His coming was foretold by Teddy Roosevelt a thousand years before dinosaurs, and any who dare challenge him do so only to face their destruction, set to a rousing Kenny Loggins theme song. The 80’s were a different time.
So… Pros and cons.. Deal with this truth torpedo; this film’s production is fantastic. It’s very well made, the art department is kicking ass, and the photography in particular stands out as being excellent. We all know the situation at hand, however. This film was never going to be judged based on production value unless said production value was horrible. Over The Top is a damn 80’s movie about arm wrestling with Sylvester Stallone, people have already decided how they feel about it just based on that information alone… and mostly, that’s fair enough. I do have one criticism that I think is worth talking about, however. The film is even more two dimensional than you might expect- here’s a good guy, here’s a bad guy, no grey area whatsoever, even where it logically should exist. The narrative demands that the viewer just gloss right over anything that might cast Lincoln Hawk in a bad light, and there’s a lot to gloss over… For instance, why did he abandon his wife and son? “Who cares, he had a good reason, moving on!” That’s literally all the film wants to say about that topic, his “good reason” is never explored or revealed. I feel like that’s kind of important, and that’s the sort of added dimension that could really flesh this movie out… However, the only “fleshing out” that happens in Over the Top is the added flesh on screen you get when two sweaty dudes pop off their dirty, sleeveless t shirts in preparation for some man on man arm wrestling. Again- the 80’s, it was almost a different world.
No matter what the consensus may be, at the very least we now have an 80’s movie about professional arm wrestling, a movie where a grown man with a bleach blond mullet declares, very matter-of-factly that he is “The Smasher,” without a hint of shame, and where Stallone lifts weights while driving a semi truck. No one can take that away from us… So breathe easy. I think probably everyone should see Over The Top. Actually, I need to rephrase that… NO ONE should see Over The Top, but everyone needs to have already seen it, like, years ago. When you were young. This needs to be at the base of your pyramid, but too far towards the top and your structural integrity will suffer, or you’ll reject the film altogether.