Movie Review : Over the Top (1987)
Over the Top is an iconic 1987 arm wrestling and truck driving movie starring the best actor who ever lived and de facto President of the United States Sylvester Stallone. It was directed and produced by reputable eighties smut merchant Menahem Golan, who was also involved in timeless classics such as Delta Force and Death Game. Perhaps the most troubling fact about this movie is that I was unaware of its existence until a couple weeks ago for some reason. I remedied to this glaring gap in my Stallone culture immediately and found a copy of Over the Top on the same evening I've learned about its existence. It was like Christmas for me to discover new vintage cocaine-era Stallone that had eluded my attention. Now, I'm so biased I can't tell you whether or not it's a good movie. I only know I've enjoyed the crap out of it.
The story of Over the Top is adorably insane like most movies Sylvester Stallone's ever been involved with. Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) is a big rig trucker who estranged his family after an undisclosed argument with his father in law Jason (Robert Loggia) *. When his wife Christina (Susan Blakely) falls ill, she requests Lincoln to come back and be a father to their son Michael (David Mendenhall) who his grandfather put through military school. Turns out Lincoln's progeny is a whiny little shit who doesn't take too kindly to having a dad again. It tears Lincoln's heart in half that his wife raised a little pussy, but he takes on himself to make aman out of him. For that, he needs to gain Michael's trust and admiration by doing what? Winning the arm wrestling world championship, obviously.
Over the Top is a movie about masculinity. It is very opinionated and American too. There are glistening and bulging biceps, skintight shirts and hypermasculine support characters inexplicably looking for confrontation at every turn. The core of Over the Top's argument on what it is to be a man doesn't have much to do with arm wrestling, though. The confrontation between Lincoln and his father in law is the most important in the movie. It is ideological. Lincoln is a self-made man living the American dream throughout the country and Jason Cutler represent the cold, institutional America that turns people into corporate drones and Lincoln doesn't want that for his son. Over the Top claims that American masculinity is achieved through self-determination and it is making its argument in a more nuanced and graceful way than many others despite the nutty arm wrestling obsession.
There is a lot of cool symbolism to Over the Top and while the ideas are great, they are very bluntly inserted in the movie. For example, there is no logical reason why part of the prize for the arm wrestling world championship is a big rig truck except that it is convenient for the movie's purpose. I mean, both are symbols of masculinity, sure, but arm wrestling and truck driving have little to do with each other. Lincoln has lost his truck while trying to retrieve his son from his father in law's house and sorely needs another one in order to make a living. The truck is the symbol of Lincoln's manhood and freedom. He can drive the phallic big rig wherever he wants whenever he wants and it is important that he earns it himself. Cutler offers him one in exchange for leaving his son alone, which would be the equivalent of neutering him.
Over the Top is a good example of the masculinity I personally grew up with. It doesn't have anything to do with forcing yourself on women (Lincoln is both a sexy, yet happy monogamous and an angry, abstinent widower in the movie) and more with confrontation, winning and being self-reliant. It's a deceptively deep and smart movie for its era. Of course, there's a lot of weird, inexplicable shit in Over the Top too. My favorite being an aborted kidnapping sequence that doesn't have anything to do with anything. It just happens, Lincoln beats the shit out of the bad guys and they disappear. What the fuck were they? Perverts? Slave traders? We'll never know. Over the Top is one of the best movies in Sylvester Stallone's storied career. It is both insane and smart and embodies the eighties perfectly. It is passionate, it draws outside the lines and it it so enthusiastic about its own ideas it comes off as a little silly at times.
* Who HAS to be the oldest character named Jason in any movie I've ever seen.