'Over the Top' - The Best of The Worst

Posted by Miserable Retail Slave on December 17, 2010 at 7:53 PM

by RFP


"You never had anything, so you have nothing to lose!"

Over the Top (1987)

Starring Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone has made a nice healthy living from portraying the underdog. His role as Rocky Balboa made him an instant star and reaffirmed what America always knew about itself: we love the underdog.

It's wired into the nation's DNA. America started life as the anemic little brother of England. Every immigrant that ever passed through Ellis Island had big dreams, but plenty of doubters back in their homeland. 

Pop culture is nothing, but a reflection of the likes and dislikes of society itself. From the Rocky series to Spider-Man to The Karate Kid to Rudy, the underdog has become a popular and important part of entertainment. The underdog makes us cheer for him, makes us smile and feel good when he achieves his dreams, and lets us believe that we can overcome our own obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.

It was only natural that the man who made a career out of being the underdog tried it again with Over the Top, even though this underdog is a harder sell: a dim-witted trucker who ran out on his family for reasons that remain unclear comes back ten years later at the behest of his dying wife in order to win his son's love through competitive arm wrestling. 

Our tale begins with Lincoln Hawk or Lincoln Hawks (the writing is SO fantastic in this movie that people periodically add an "s" to his last name for no reason whatsoever. There's no consistency to this at all) shows up to pick his son up from a military academy after being absent for 10 years. 

Hawk's ex-wife, Christina, (it's actually implied they're still married, but he's been gone for a decade) is suffering from a heart ailment and is about to undergo an important surgery. Fearful that her son will be left with only his grandfather, the rich and controlling Cutler, she asks Hawk to pick up his son, Michael, so that some father/son bonding can occur during the ensuing road trip.

At a truck stop, Michael gets to see his father's special skills in action when a man called "Smasher" challenges Hawk to a bout of arm wrestling.

It's on.

Hawk marches towards the special arm wrestling table, his game face on. The intensity is so great that seeps right off of the movie screen and out into the viewer. I'm sure that crowds who saw this at the theater in 1987 burst into random arm wrestling challenges, inspired by the pure machismo leaking off the silver screen. 

Hawk sits down, turns his hat backward (Hawk later says that when he turns his hat backwards, it makes him feel like a machine or a truck. Neat.), and goes OVER THE TOP. 

Going "over the top" is Hawk's special arm wrestling finishing move. It's like when you see Hulk Hogan drop a leg. It's all over. When Hawk snakes his hand around and on top of yours, all you can do is stare with wide-eyed fear as your hand slams against the table, causing your biceps to explode and your shoulder to slide out of socket.

Hawk's arch-enemy is in the building, Bull Hurley, a huge tank of man, who is apparently a master of the arm wrestle, but may not have the special OVER THE TOP finishing move that Hawk has learned.

Hawk refuses Bull's challenge, saying that Hawk is yellow (ooooh, sic burn) and they'll meet again at the World Championships in Vegas. Mike is unimpressed and says Hawk is a hustler. Jay-Z approves.

What follows is a heart-warming couple of days as Mike acts like a pompous ass, showing off his high IQ, speaking proper English, and calling his dad a muscle-bound moron. In a show of vehicular stupidity second only to letting a blind Al Pacino drive in Scent of a Woman, Hawk punishes his mouthy son by letting him drive his semi down the road. That'll show him. 

This newly formed father-son bond is put to the test when they end their road-trip at the hospital. Alas, they arrive too late. Christina has already passed and Mike never got to say goodbye. For the next 20 minutes, Mike shows off his best scrunched-up, crying face as he runs off to be with his Grandfather, emotes throughout his mother's funeral, and then cries again when Hawk shows up to reclaim him, but Cutler has him arrested. 

Cutler agrees to drop all charges if Hawk leaves the state and, with Mike's blessing, he runs off to Vegas and the World Arm Wrestling Championships.

I won't spoil the end, but let's just say the underdog Hawk takes on the world champ, Bull, an underwhelming Kenny Loggins song ("Meet Me Halfway") scores Mike's impending grand theft auto charge and his attempts to cheer his dad on, and, like Scott Pilgrim, Hawk earns the power of self respect. It's all very heartwarming.

The Verdict: Obviously, this would have never happened, especially in the '80s, but I almost thought - just for half a second - that Hawk was going to lose to Bull Hurley at the end of the movie. But if you are going to ignite the dying embers of your son's fading love for you through arm wrestling, you had better win. I mean, if Hawk had lost to Bull Hurley, I'm pretty sure that Mike would have given his father the finger, steal another vehicle, and drive his 12 year old ass home. 

The movie is a dopey piece of '80s crowd pleasing slop filled with all the ridiculous, yet gratifying moments that you come to expect from a feature co-written by Stallone. There's always that shaky balance of brilliance mixed with the needlessly cringe inducing rampant stupidity that somehow always seems to make it passed the cutting room floor in mainstream '80s era movies.

I vaguely remember seeing moments of this movie when I was younger, primarily the scene where Hawk bullied his son into challenging a much larger and somewhat older kid to an arm wrestling match. I'm sure as a wide-eyed 8 year old that I probably was enraptured by the whole production. But, as a jaded 29 year old, I was entertained, but in a "I just want to relax, watch a movie, and not have to think about what I'm watching" type of movie.


Hey, don't forget to check back on Friday. Christmas Eve. The Quest to Purify My Pop Culture Soul - "Bad Santa". Get a laugh before dealing with the fam.

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