Over the Top

Winner takes it all, loser takes the fall: this is Over the Top

Over the Top is distinctive in that it gives Sylvester Stallone more dialogue to wresle with than his previous three films combined. But, it stands to figure that with something in the neighborhood of $13 million in his paycheck, Stallone could bloody well be induced to contribute something more than just his physique.

The people behind the $13 million are Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the owners of Cannon Films (the former also directed this outing). Cannon, which has produced a torrent of movies in the last couple of years (mostly of the exploitation kind) has lately found itself in financial trouble, and it desperately needs a hit. So the money is a tribute to Stallone’s track record.

I’ll be surprised if Over the Top is a monster hit, however. It’s just enough of a departure from Stallone’s formula to displease his fans, but it’s not interesting enough to find a different audience.

He plays a footloose trucker who left his family some time before. Now his wife (Susan Blakely) is dying of an unnamed disease. We can tell she’s dying because she wears no makeup.

Which means that the couple’s 12-year-old son (David Mendenhall) needs care. But he hasn’t seen his father in years, and is used to being pampered by his rich grandfather (Robert Loggia, a fine actor trying his best not to look embarrassed about collecting a good fee for a nothing part).

Stallone picks the kid up at an exclusive Colorado military academy, in order to get to know the boy as they truck to the mother’s hospital in Los Angeles. This sets the scene for plenty of cute exchanges. The kid pointedly tells his father that, “There’s a lot more to life than muscles, y’know.” Sly responds by teaching the lad how to find self-worth by challenging loiterers at a truck stop to an arm-wrestling match.

See, the movie is mostly about the relationship between father and son—a Kramer vs. Kramer on 18 wheels—but there’s this arm-wrestling thing mixed in. This insures that the ending, on which Stallone gambles everything, will involve a sporting competition a la Rocky. In this case, it’s a glitzy Las Vegas arm-wrestling championship.

Now, the art of arm-wrestling may have its attributes. Its proponents may be fine people, although the participants in the film are bellowing walruses, one of whom drinks motor oil to rev up for a match.

But there’s something about arm-wrestling as the big event that seems fundamentally giggle-worthy. I mean, arm-wrestling?!? Say what you will about the boxing in the Rocky movies, as least it’s cinematic. The sport here is heavy and static.

The mishmash script is credited to four writers, including Stallone (as usual) and veteran Stirling Silliphant. The most dishonest thing they have done is to have Stallone repeatedly tell his boy that winning isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, etc. Of course, son, that applies everywhere except Sylvester Stallone’s movies, which make victory the only option.

First published in the Herald, 1987.

Having consumed my own fair share of motor oil before matches, the sanctimonious tone I took in my review here seems hardly sporting. Anyway. Just typing the words “Cannon Films” brings back the cheesy aroma of about half the movies of the 1980s, that bizarre Golan-Globus mix of grindhouse fodder and arthouse experiments. I spent so much attention on Stallone’s price tag because it was much-remarked on at the time, and because well before the movie opened it was clear that this was one of those stupid ideas that wouldn’t have happened if an actor hadn’t decided to cash in and take a giant, absurdly-inflated payday.

For Sammy Hagar’s theme from Over the Top, which reminds us that “Winner takes it all/loser takes the fall,” click here. But hey, possible spoilers.

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