Published on March 14th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Over the Top 
Summary: Never has a movie's title been more appropriate. Sly Stallone's ode to arm wrestling combines the Holy Trinity of cheesy films: Sports underdog, father/son reconnection and an '80s rock soundtrack.
PG | 93 min.
Director: Menahem Golan | Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone, Stirling Silliphant
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, David Mendenhall, Robert Loggia
US Distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures | Box Office: $16,057,580 (#69 of 1987)
Say what you want about Sylvester Stallone but there’s something admirable about sticking with what works. When Rocky dropped in 1976 to worldwide critical and audience acclaim, Sly turned from a part time porn actor to a major Hollywood player in a snap. He not only brought one of the most classic underdog characters of all-time to life but created the character from scratch, writing the screenplay. Stallone is one of only three people in film history to be nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for the same film–the other two are Charlie Chaplin (The Great Dicator) and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane).
This leads me right to Stallone’s 1987 father-son action/drama Over the Top, widely considered to be the Citizen Kane of arm wrestling movies…okay maybe not widely but I’m sure someone thinks that.
After the critical success of Rocky, Sly could have turned into an award chasing wannabe thespian but instead, he continued to play some iteration of the lovable, badass American underdog for the next 40 years, achieving almost no love from critics. In Over the Top, Stallone’s character Lincoln Hawk may be the most likable of his career. This is a semi-truck drivin’ man who’s been labeled a loser from day one and after ten years of being kept from his estranged son, he’ll do anything to form a relationship with the boy.
Hawk’s son Michael (16-year-old David Mendenhall) has been kept mostly ignorant of his father’s existence by his controlling millionaire grandfather Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia). Michael’s mother is dying of cancer and he’s just meeting his dad at the start of the picture but to be honest, this kid is just a weenie. For the first 30 minutes of Over the Top, he won’t stop bashing Hawk, his rig (“This truck is disgusting!”) and any attempts made to build their relationship (“Do you really think you can make up 10 years in two to three days?”). Mendenhall won a pair of Razzies for his turn in Over the Top and maybe that’s harsh for a teenager but his place in ’80s camp history is set!
The movie’s plot is straight out of the cliché handbook but let’s not forget, you’re hopefully watching this movie to have a few laughs. Hawk is a massive man but he’s not violent by nature. He pumps iron with his right arm while driving his rig across the country on long-haul trips…only in an ’80s flick! We find out Hawk has a knack for arm wrestling after he’s challenged to a match by some meathead at a truck stop diner, whom he quickly embarrasses with his signature “over the top” maneuver. From here, Hawk gears up for the annual World Arm Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, where the promise of a brand new semi truck (what luck!) and $100,000 cash are on the line. Along the way, Hawk and Michael grow closer, teach each other some life lessons and dodge Jason’s hired goons.
Over the Top is essentially constructed from the Holy Trinity of cheesy moviemaking: It’s an underdog sports flick, a family reconnection story and it has a driving ’80s soundtrack. Speaking of the film’s music, there are plenty of cringe-worthy points (when Asia’s John Wetton belts out “Winner Takes it All” over the closing credits, for example) but electro-music visionary Giorgio Moroder crafted the movie’s score. His score is pretty much the only subtle part of Over the Top, providing some rumbling synth under the arm wrestling scenes but nowhere near the level of in-your-face cheese of the soundtrack.
No one embodies these all-American protagonists like Stallone did back in the day. Everyone loves what Rocky Balboa and John Rambo represented about the country–the everyman rising to greatness and the leftover freedom fighter standing up for what he feels is right–but Lincoln Hawk is as likable as any character Sly has played. There are essentially no flaws to this guy. We think we’ve found a chink in his armor when it’s revealed he ditched his wife and kid years ago but that’s squashed when his cancer-stricken ex-wife essentially used her dying breath to tell Michael, “He had his reasons.” Like most of Stallone’s figures, Hawk isn’t exactly a master wordsmith, such as the inspiring response he gives when asked why he’s competing: “Tell you the truth, the truck is, uh, you know, the most important thing for me. I… I don’t really… it doesn’t matter if I, uh, become the champion or anything,” …it brings a tear to your eye.
In fact, Hawk is such a freaking underdog that the filmmakers couldn’t even remember his name for the duration of Over the Top! In the movie’s credits and on the side of his rig, the central protagonist’s last name is spelled “Hawk”, but several characters refer to him as “Hawks” throughout the picture including himself when he addresses an envelope to his estranged wife “Christina Hawks”. I mean, it’s pretty sad that Sly co-wrote the screenplay and he couldn’t even make sure they kept the name straight. For proof of this massive oversight, check out the trailer at the bottom of this post to hear the announcer call him “Hawks” also.
Any review of this movie would be a sham if it didn’t make mention of just how appropriate its monicker is. Over the Top serves as both the title and most accurate description of this picture. Some people may find the story of a genuinely good guy trying to form a relationship with his son to be legitimately touching but I feel like the script, by Stallone and Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, Shaft in Africa), tries to cram too much bonding into a tiny window of time. It makes you wonder how Hawk could keep the kid’s interest if their following weekend consisted of just a long-haul to Dover and stopping to play mini golf along the way.