Good day, I’m Julian André, and welcome to Craptastic Cinema.
OK, so by 1987 Sylvester Stallone had already cashed in on his tough guy but a good guy persona with the Rocky and Rambo franchises, as well as other gritty cop roles in Nighthawks and Cobra. So, he needed another avenue to push his mean machine with a heart of gold image. And what’s a better way to do that than to co-write a screenplay about truckers and arm wrestling that became the ultimate craptastic Over The Top. I can’t think of a more perfect vehicle for Sly to showcase his chops than to do a movie about an activity that most men give up after they leave junior high.
Oh, but this is no ordinary muscle-bulging movie extravaganza. This gut-busting… er, I mean heartwarming film is a true underdog story. Complete with a sensitive and sappy soundtrack from such recording luminaries as Kenny Loggins (the true king of ‘80s film tracks)—who kicks the production off right away with the emotionally drippy “Meet Me Half Way”—Robin Zander, Eddie Money, and even Sly’s bro, Frank Stallone, in addition to this gem from Sammy Hagar that just about sums up the entire release:
Truly riveting… Anyway, Sly plays Lincoln Hawk, which is absolutely the finest character name in the history of film. I swear that my first born (boy or girl) will be named Lincoln Hawk André. He’s a down-and-out trucker who was forced to leave his family behind against his better judgment more than ten years ago. Now, his biggest wish is to make amends with his young, roughly 12-year-old son Mike (David Mendenhall) who he barely knows. This is all with the blessing of his ex-wife who’s terminally ill… Do we all see where this is going? Moving on, Mike is a total brat who has just graduated from the military academy and has been turned against his dad by his grandfather, Jason Cutler, played by the brilliant Robert Loggia in a mesmerizing one-note performance. However, it’s the mother’s desire that Mike accompany Hawk on a road trip home in Hawk’s run-down rig so they can get to know each other. Why anyone would want anything to do with the spoiled, over-privileged and mean-spirited Mike is beyond me, but the two set out regardless. Incidentally, the young boy’s character is so spectacularly annoying that Mendenhall won two Razzies that year for Worst Supporting Actor and Worst New Star.
As it turns out, Hawk indulges in the powerful “sport” of arm wrestling to make money on the side, and of course, he’s quite good, and demonstrates his talent to Mike by beating “The Smasher.” He even plans to enter the National Arm-Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas as a long shot, so he can win a new truck and start his own business, but more on that in a bit. So, long story short, Hawk manages to win his son over through the course of a few days by teaching him to drive a big rig (which may actually be impossible for a 12-year-old) and manipulating him into an arm-wrestling match, by telling him that “the world meets nobody halfway, if you want something, you gotta take it!” (See how this brilliantly ties into the Kenny Loggins’ song?) Hawk also teaches his young protégé the technique of going “over the top”—where one hooks their middle and index fingers over their thumb during an arm-wrestling match for a leverage advantage, which may not even be legal, but who knows?—that allows Mike to miraculously beat a kid who’s obviously bigger and stronger than he is. It’s all one big party until the mother dies (hey, what did you think was going to happen?), and Mike gets upset with Hawk, blaming him for the trip that didn’t allow him to be home with his mother and running away to be with the evil Cutler. An emotionally manipulative, but oh so stingingly poignant, custody squabble over Mike ensues.
Fast -forward to the National Arm Wrestling Championship at the Vegas Hilton. This is where we learn the big secret of Hawk’s baseball cap. During matches, when he turns his cap backwards it’s like a switch that turns him into a mean fighting machine… Wow, that’s mind-blowing stuff. Now, normally it’s the spirit of competition that drives athletes to be the best and desire championships, which is usually what endears them to the masses, and the ones who are in it for the cash and prizes earn disdain. It’s strange how the hero of this film is the one who wants a big, shiny new truck. Nonetheless, this revelation shouldn’t turn anyone off to Hawk’s spine-tingling journey through the competition as a 20:1 underdog. Additionally, Mike eventually learns that his dad isn’t such a bad guy and escapes his rich grandfather’s lair, steals a car (his dad taught him to drive, remember?) and inexplicably navigates the baggage at the airport while avoiding his grandfather’s pursuing thugs to eventually somehow end up at the arena! Meanwhile, Hawk has bigger arms to fry, cutting through the field to make his way to the elite eight where he must take on guys who take slaps in the face to get themselves psyched, and other wacky characters such as the hulking, long-haired galoot Mad Dog Madison, and Grizzly, who intimidates opponents by eating cigars and drinking motor oil. Hawk manages to survive minus a minor setback, and makes it through the semi-finals in a controversial bout that tweaks Hawk’s arm.
Tada! It’s time for the big finale. Mike finds his dad and tells him he wants to be with him, but Hawk is going up against his arch rival Bull Hurley (the mammoth Rick Zumwalt), the world champion five years running who claims Hawk has been ducking him forever. Hawk’s injury, along with his fear of Hurley makes him start to doubt himself, but wouldn’t you know? Mike is there to pull the same Jedi mind stuff on his father that he pulled on Mike just days ago. Now, let it be said that it’s established in the beginning of the competition that there are weight classes, so why is Hawk going up against a man that’s probably close to about 100 pounds heavier than him? Who knows? Who cares? Their final match is super intense despite this oversight. Does Hawk go “over the top”? Maybe. Does Hawk really “win”? You decide. Does Mike join his dad for an uncertain future of life on the road in a truck and no education? Probably.
Over The Top is a film full of clichéd direction replete with the requisite music montages, wooden performances, and a cameo from former pro wrestler Terry Funk, therefore making it one of the most craptastic movies ever made, right?
I’m Julian André, humble scrivener, blogging exclusively for MovieFanFare. Until next time, I bid you a fond adieu!