a critiQal film review Over the Top (1987)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Hard-luck big-rig trucker Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) tries to rebuild his life - and repair his relationship with the son (Mendenhall) he abandoned years earlier - by capturing the first-place prize money in the World Armwrestling Championship in Las Vegas.

757 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 47s)

Back in the 80’s, Sylvester Stallone made a name for himself as an action star with classic films like First Blood (1982) and some of the best Rocky (1976) films (Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985)). Having seen several of these films already, we figured there weren’t any we had missed. But, perusing NetFlix®, we came across another: Over the Top, and discovered this was one 80’s Stallone film we had never actually seen before.

So would this arm wrestling extravaganza be worth our time? Or was this an example of Stallone cashing in on his action star persona to give viewers something less than exciting? We decided to find out.

Stallone plays Hawk, a big-rig trucker in Over the Top. He plays the working-man persona rather well, delivering a believable – if rather one-note – performance. Thankfully, that one-note resonates well. His interactions with his estranged son (played by David Mendenhall) are surprisingly touching, and the viewer can sense the earnest desire for the father-son connection from Stallone’s character. It’s not a very nuanced character, as Stallone plays the big dumb trucker with the heart of gold stereotype, but Stallone’s earnesty and straight-forwardness (everything his character does is for his son) are catching.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters of the film don’t have that same earnest approach, and the film begins to fall apart around him quickly. David Mendenhall’s character is supposed to be conflicted (his dad did disappear out of his life for a decade), but he comes off as bratty and wishy-washy. Spoiled at the beginning of the film – and rather horrendous to his father throughout – he (unsurprisingly) has a turn of heart near the finale, and turns into a loving, completely forgiving, son. Unfortunately, that completely ridiculous change of heart doesn’t help to endear him to the viewers after his annoying performance throughout the rest of the film.

And then there’s Robert Loggia, who plays the “evil” grandfather of the pic. Set out to destroy Stallone’s character from the get-go, he portrays a grandpa who will do anything to get Hawk out of his grandson’s life. Having lied to the boy for over 10 years, he now goes to extremes (including trying to kidnap the boy) to get him away from his father. Loggia plays the character stereotypically, with a growl to his voice and no real basis for emotions – it’s just the ol’ “your not good enough” scenario of the rich. And yet, his story just peters out at the end, without a satisfying conclusion.

Then there’s the arm wrestling. While the finale builds up nicely, turning arm wrestling into a Rocky (1976) like competition that will get fans charged up (which is quite a feat), it’s sadly not the over-the-top portion of the film the title seems to hint at. Rather, it’s the cliched ending that will have viewers groaning in disgust.

That’s not to say that ending isn’t expected – it is. The film presents several ridiculous cliches throughout, including Stallone’s heart-of-gold trucker, the whiny brat that is his son, and the whole “evil” rich vs “good” poor thing, but the viewer still holds out hope that this cliched storyline will gain steam and come up with a decent ending. Unfortunately, that never happens, and good ol’ Hollywood ending is waiting to bring the movie even further down at the end. Judging by the film, despite the constant repetition throughout that winning isn’t everything, it sure manages to make all of Hawk’s problems go away in an instant.

Full of cliches and filled with inexplicable easy listening music (you know, the songs from Kenny Loggins that don’t have the so-called “edgy feel” of “Danger Zone”), Stallone’s bare bones performance as a trucker with a heart of gold is the best thing about Over the Top. How he got into arm wrestling, the real reason he left his son behind (other than a vague reference blaming the grandpa), why the villain hates him so much, why a letter changed his son’s mind more than anything else he could do – these and many other questions are never answered. In fact, they are largely igorned to make the film’s cliches work better.

David Mendenhall’s whiny performance, Loggia’s inexplicably evil one-note grandpa, and even the foes in the arm wrestling circuit don’t lend anything to this ridiculous film. While Over the Top does get credit for making arm wrestling into a “sport” fans can root for, the rest of the film fails to contribute anything, and viewers will be left sadly disappointed.

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