Over the Top is over the top

My girlfriend and I were scrolling through Netflix, and when I passed Over the Top she asked me to go back. Reluctantly, I did. I was in the mood for absolutely anything but Over the Top, yet whenever I’m dead set against watching something, Starla goes all in. I tried to talk her out of it by explaining it’s an incredibly sappy film about arm wrestling. This only enticed her further. 

Several minutes into the movie, she asked, “Wait, are you sure this is about arm wrestling?” The movie takes its time warming up, but once it does, whoa boy. Better stand back.

If you’ve never been exposed to the absurdity of Over the Top, Sylvester Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a truck driver who just reunited with the son he walked out on a decade earlier. See, the boy’s mother is dying and although her wealthy father (Robert Loggia) is gunning for custody of his grandson, she wants her boy to be with his father. Long story short: complex emotional conflicts are resolved by arm wrestling. Fuck yeah.

There’s something kind of bizarre about viewing American life through the eyes of Israeli director Menahem Golan, co-founder of The Cannon Group. His interpretation of the country has always been unique, no doubt feeding back into the very culture which inspired him, but here he cranks it up to eleven. Or perhaps “jumps the shark” is more accurate.

Hawk, with his muscular physique and rust bucket of a truck (also his home, which contains one-arm exercise equipment) is supposed to be an everyman. Meanwhile Loggia’s character, who is perfectly justified in his assessment that Hawk is a deadbeat, is portrayed as the villain. I don’t want to spoil it, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet, but Loggia represents The Man, and he despises his son-in-law because he arm wrestles and drives a truck for a living. Loggia ultimately changes his mind when Stallone proceeds to arm wrestle and drive a truck for a living.

Nonetheless, Over the Top is a surprisingly fun ride through the cheesiest depths of the 1980s. This remarkable artifact from my childhood even films its climax during a real life arm wrestling tournament. I know what you’re thinking: Arm wrestling tournaments really existed? Well, sort of. This one was created specifically for the film, and two guys actually got their arms broken. One of the incidents ends up in the final cut during an obligatory sports movie montage.

Over the Top is a lot more entertaining than I remembered. It’s interesting to find out how the usually ball-related cliches in sports movies get translated to a movie about arm wrestling of all things. And in case you’re wondering about the title, it refers to a “special move” Stallone’s character has incorporated into his matches. It’s pretty stupid and I suspect it has no basis in reality, but this movie isn’t filmed in reality, anyway, so what’s the problem?

Warning: When I say this movie’s sappy, I mean embarrassingly sappy. 

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