Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, August 7, 2015


Though he’s been characterized over the years as nothing but the star of big budget action movies, Sylvester Stallone has never been afraid of taking chances. Even during the eighties, when he was still one of the highest grossing stars in the world, he would occasionally appear in unexpected star vehicles. This is the guy who, at the peak of his box office hotness, made a country and western musical, after all. One such unusual Stallone movie is “Over the Top.” By 1987, inspirational sports movies had covered so many competitive events that arm-wrestling was the only topic left unexplored. Directed by Menahem Golan, Mr. Cannon himself, and scored by the king of eighties synth, Giorgio Moroder, Sly only became in involved with the film due to the 12 million dollar paycheck. Savaged by critics and beaten at the box office by “Mannequin,” “Over the Top” has long been regarded as one of the missteps of Mr. Stallone’s career.

Lincoln Hawk is a long-haul truck driver and a professional arm-wrestler. On the eve of a risky heart surgery, his ex-wife has instructed him to pick up his son from school. The boy has been coached by his resentful father-in-law to hate Lincoln. Despite this, the two begin to bond, Hawk even training the boy in arm-wrestling. When the mother dies, Mike’s grandfather tries to take him away from Lincoln. His attempts to rescue the boy land him in jail. Soon, Hawk’s entire life – his truck, his arm-wrestling honor, and the legal custody of his son – are resting on whether or not he can win the World Armwrestling Championship in Las Vegas.

“Over the Top” is a weird mixture of genres. The movie attempts to be a serious drama about a father fighting to keep his son and prove that he loves him. Yet it’s also a goofy underdog sports story about arm wrestling, of all things. Inside of this, “Over the Top” even tries to sneak in some typically Stallone-ian action. For example, after leading Mike to victory while arm-wrestling some punks in a dinner, men working for Lincoln’s ex-father-in-law kidnap the boy. Sly punches one before leaping in his truck, a chase ensuing over the road. The scene, expectantly, ends with some vehicle-on-vehicle shrapnel. A moment that made the poster comes when Lincoln drives his truck through the Cutler mansion gates, smashing into some light posts and statues. In keeping with this tone, Robert Loggia as Jason Cutler, the villainous father-in-law, is far too evil to be believable. You half expect him to put a gun to the little boy’s head.

Despite these burst of action, “Over the Top” is mostly focused on father/son bonding time. When we first meet Michael, he’s a stern, stuck-up kid who addresses every adult as sir. He out-right admits to hating his father within the movie’s first ten minutes. Yet over a short montage, the two become best friends. Stallone gives the boy inspirational advice, teaches him to drive, and the two bond over arm wrestling. Stallone is a better actor then he gets credit for but he never seems entirely committed to this material. He doesn’t have much chemistry with David Mendenhall, the actor playing his son. Mendenhall is fine and never annoying. Mostly, the father/son storyline is mawkish and emotional. The scene of the two meeting in prison is especially sentimental. The movie goes for big, sloppy, heart-string tugging emotion which it does not earn, not even in a campy, ironic sort of way.

The main thing I enjoy about “Over the Top” is it gifting the world with another weird Sylvester Stallone character. Lincoln Hawk is one of the most isolated of Sly’s leading roles. Hawk really doesn’t have any friends. His trucking leaves him alone for long stretches of time. He’s estranged from his ex-wife and his father-in-law despises him. Unlike most trucker movies, there’s not a single scene of Hawk chatting on a CB. How he got into arm-wrestling is never expounded on but it seems to be his sole hobby in the world. The guy takes showers in the truck stop parking lots and sleeps in his rig. He’s honestly kind of pathetic. The love he has for his boy is the sole shining light in his life. As I said, the scenes between Stallone and the boy are awkward. When Hawk is left to his own, the character becomes fascinating. This is surely one of Stallone’s most socially outcast social outcast characters.

But what about the goddamn arm wrestling? Arm wrestling is not the most cinematic of competitions. Two guys standing at a table, granting and straining at each other, does not leave a lot of room for exciting action. “Over the Top” tries to make the event as action-packed as possible. Golan’s direction makes use of slow-motion, dramatic yelling, and action-filled montages. The arm wrestlers are given bigger-than-life, pro-wrestler style personalities. The enormous Rick Zumwalt plays Bull Hurley, the reigning champion, as a raving lunatic who belittles his opponents before crushing them. Or their arms, anyway. Honestly, it seems impossible that a buff but small guy like Stallone could ever beat some of the mountains he’s up against here. The last act is devoted to the arm wrestling championship and it’s the liveliest part of “Over the Top.” As ridiculous as it is, the dumb lizard brain can’t resist the sports movie smultz of underdogs, haughty champs, and dramatic last-minute victories. There are also short interview segments with the different competitors, which give us a more intimate view into their motivations.

“Over the Top” is also eighties-as-hell. The soundtrack is packed start-to-finish with inspiration anthems. Aside from Moroder, there’s Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, Asia, and, yes, Frank Stallone. The movie even received a line of action figures, which lined toy store clearance shelves for years afterwards. The father/son storyline is hopelessly lame. The arm wrestling scenes really are ridiculous, even though they end up being the best part of the flick. The film is middling Stallone material, with tedious moments and stupidly entertaining moments. It’s mostly remember as an artifact of eighties cheese, which is probably how it’s best approached. [6/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Dejected Trucker Dad]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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