Over the Top
Release Date: February 13, 1987
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert Loggia, David Mendenhall
SW Grade: Fucking Awesome
The year is 1987. A stunned and astonished planet watches as India invades Pakistan. Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias Sanchez, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for kick-starting the peace talks in Central America. The life-altering laugh riot that is “The Golden Girls” finishes the year as 4th most popular television program according to the Nielsen rating system. The Cutting Crew kicks off a stunning musical voyage by placing “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” in the Billboard Top 10. And in a bit of extreme pride for a Minnesotan, the Minnesota Twins win the World Series in seven games over the evil, Ozzie Smith-led St. Louis Cardinals.
What a year!
But as our world was cruising on this roller coaster of unprecedented highs and lows, leaving each of us wondering what could possibly come next, the steadying influence that was (and still is) arm wrestling reared its all-to-welcome head and brought peace and balance to this great water-covered orb we call Earth. Yes, my friends, Sylvester Stallone made the type of shrewd business decision that only a movie star of his caliber could make—he signed on the dotted line to star as Lincoln Hawk in the single-most influential arm-wrestling movie to date, OVER THE TOP.
Gives me chills just typing those three words. OVER…THE…TOP. But if reading them doesn’t elicit the same feeling of euphoria for you, maybe the studio’s tag line for the film will win you over:
“Some fight for money…Some fight for glory…He’s fighting for his son’s love.”
Got ya, didn’t it? I thought it would. Don’t feel bad. The marketing exec who wrote that promotional gem wasn’t playing fair when he put that idea on paper.
That’s right. Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a recently widowed truck driver forced to win back custody of his son “the only way he knows how.” What’s that you ask? Will Lincoln challenge the state’s stance on single-parent custody in court? Will he file for joint-custody with the child’s grandfather and now legal guardian? Or will he simply kidnap the boy, move 80 miles north of the Canadian border, and pursue his dream of bringing his raw mix of reggae and electronica to Canada’s historically strong Top 40 radio?
If you asked any of the above-mentioned questions, I pity both you and your children should you ever be forced to fight for custody. I say this only because every law-abiding Harvard Law School graduate will tell you that successful child custody battles are not won in a courtroom. They are won at arm wrestling competitions. You heard me correctly. Want your son back? All you have to do is pin the back of my hand to a cushy vinyl pad. Do that six or seven times in a row in the midst of thousands of screaming fans and you can see your child Mondays, Tuesdays, and every other weekend guaranteed.
Lincoln Hawk—who was lucky enough to be named after both the coolest car manufacturer ever and the fiercest winged predator on the planet today—is a wayward trucker sent by his ailing ex-wife to pick up his son David from military school. [Note: I find it laughable that the writers of this movie used such an everyday name for a trucker. Use your imagination. It seems like you can’t throw a stone these days without hitting somebody named Lincoln Hawk. With this in mind, I will refer to Stallone’s character as Lance from here on out.]
Absent for much of his son’s life, Lance is immediately despised by the perpetually miffed David and his rich (in a “pay me for protection” kind of way) ex-father-in-law (played by the antithesis of versatile, Robert Loggia). One can only assume that David is pissed off because he was born with his mother’s figure and all the other kids at his school use his stick-thin arms to clean the muzzles on their rifles. Loggia, well he’s just pissed at life in general.
But just as in real-life, all family problems are solved with the help of a simple cross-country trip in the cab of a semi-truck. No therapy or tough love needed here. Lance realizes that the best way to make amends is to hit the road and teach David the ins and outs of arm-wrestling. The “ins” apparently being that you should always know when to turn your baseball cap backwards in the midst of a bicep battle, and the “outs” being that it helps if you are strong enough to even lift a baseball cap. Both of which we’re not sure David is capable of doing. Amazingly enough, by the time Lance and David reach their destination, they are not only best of friends, it’s almost like they’re father and son. Oh, wait…
But just when Lance and David are about to cut their thumbs and become blood brothers, Lance’s ex-wife goes to “the big truck-stop in the sky.” Ain’t that always the way? Crusty old Robert Loggia steps in and sells Al Paccino out to the Columbian drug lords…oh, wait, that was his role in Scarface.
Anyway, Grandpa Loggia shanghais David, tries to pay off Lance, and just basically acts cranky. His less-than-hospitable behavior motivates Lance to enter the granddaddy of all arm wrestling competitions—the National Arm Wrestling Championships (referred to as the NAWC from here on out).
Lance knows all too well that the winner of the NAWC takes home a truck-load of cash, a semi-truck with which to haul above-mentioned cash, and the pride and adoration that comes from being at the top of your shitty field. With a bounty like that, Lance knows there is no way he could be refused custody of David. At least that’s what his online attorney told him.
But Robert Loggia doesn’t give up quite so easily. He convinces Richard Gere that he’ll never succeed as a jet pilot because being a loser is in his blood…oh, wait, that was his role in An Officer and a Gentleman.
Anyway, Lance sweeps the competition—despite an aching elbow and the unfortunate burden of having to arm-wrestle a guy named Bull. In the process he sweeps us off our feet. To seal the deal, Lance gives David a big hug and tells him he loves him. It’s the moment that Academy Award voters have been waiting for from Stallone for years. Even Grandpa Loggia can’t argue with this degree of love and affection. Instead, he hires a boyish Tom Hanks to head up the new toy division at his company…oh, wait, that was his role in Big.
Are you as tired of this as I am? If your answer is “no,” I encourage you to add this movie to your Netflix queue as soon as humanly possible. It is bound to be available for immediate shipping, although there is a good chance it may arrive in VHS form. If there is more than one copy available, I encourage you to rent multiple copies. That way, if you misplace one, you’ll still be able to witness the climactic ending with your own eyes.
About the only aspect of this film that doesn’t kick my gag-reflex into high gear, is the vastly underused Bob Beattie, who shines as the play-by-play announcer at NAWC. In my opinion, nobody calls a better arm wrestling match than Mr. Beattie. Intonation, alliteration, an elitist vocabulary—the man has it all. In fact, one of the most noticeable scars on Hollywood is that Bob Beattie has never been cast as an announcer in any movie since Over the Top. Just more proof that talent alone is not enough in the City of Angels.