As anyone who’s seen it can attest, 1987′s “Over The Top” is without a doubt the worst movie in Sylvester Stallone’s career–a career, mind you, that includes “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot” and “Judge Dredd.”
After the surprising success and critical acclaim of “Rocky” and the decision to turn the seemingly one-off story into a franchise and the cannibalize the series with four sequels in the 80s, it became clear that Stallone would basically do any project put in front of him. Sometimes that meant the ridiculous but awesomely self-aware “Tango and Cash,” and other times that meant “Over The Top.”
The movie tackles the tumultuous relationship between an estranged father and his unruly and confused son, who has been raised by his grandfather and is now coping with the impending death of his terminally ill mother. All set to the backdrop of competitive arm wrestling. It’s Shakespearean in its complexity.
Stallone plays the estranged father/arm-wrestling protagonist Lincoln Hawk. Hawk’s a hard-driving trucker who stops at a military school to pick his son up for a road trip, right after his junior graduation. What follows next is what can be best described as kidnapping. Hawk’s son Michael doesn’t want to go and hasn’t been informed of this road trip beforehand.
Schlock like “Over The Top” practically writes itself. Father and son bond. Father and son are separated. Father and son are reunited in the end during the big finale. But there are two things that separate this tripe from the usual 80s action fare: Stallone’s performance and the arm wrestling itself.
Stallone has never been a good actor and to be fair, it’s hard for him to exhibit any range given the roles he’s played, but his career performances can be summed up by the volume and clarity of his speech and little else. For “Over The Top,” he chose to give the wounded and vulnerable Hawk a soft-spoken mumble that barely qualifies as acting.
As for the arm wrestling, it’s arm wrestling. It wouldn’t matter if “Over The Top” were directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by Robert Towne, there is no way to make arm wrestling interesting and there is no way to shoot it that makes it compelling. This scene properly demonstrates why.
No amount of showmanship can hide the fact that arm wresting is the least interesting sport to commit to film. There are movies about pool. There are movies about golf. There are movies about hockey and horse racing and dodgeball and nearly every other sport (save curling) and any and all of them are better suited for the screen than arm wrestling. And yet here it is, a movie where Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestles a man for the custody of his son and shiny new semi.
As was the rule during Stallone’s reign over action movies in the 80s, the soundtrack to “Over The Top” is hilariously awful. Sammy Hagar contributes the theme song “Winner Take All,” which is a combination of guitar riffing and cabana music. And Kenny Loggins, who was contractually obligated to write an inspirational song to every underdog soundtrack in the 80s, also appears with the song “Meet Me Half Way.” It got an appropriately hilarious montage video.
After catching “Over The Top,” I’m tempted to revisit the Stallone well several more times in the coming weeks. If there’s a specific Stallone movie you think I should do, mention it in the comments section or post a reply on Facebook.