Today’s feature is a 1987 Sylvester Stallone vehicle with an immensely appropriate title: Over The Top.
The screenplay for Over The Top was penned by lead actor Sylvester Stallone and Stirling Silliphant (Village of the Damned, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure), with story credit going to Gary Conway (American Ninja 3, American Ninja 2) and David Engelbach (America 3000, Death Wish II).
Over The Top was directed and produced by Menahem Golan of The Cannon Group, who worked extensively with his co-producer cousin, Yoram Globus, to bring the world such movies as Enter The Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Delta Force, The Apple, Bolero, and American Ninja, among many others.
The cinematographer on Over the Top was David Gurfinkel, who also shot the movies American Samurai, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, America 3000, The Delta Force, Enter The Ninja, and The Apple.
Over the Top featured two primary editors: Don Zimmerman (Marmaduke, Galaxy Quest, Cobra, Rocky IV, Staying Alive) and James Symons (Tank Girl, Fortress 2, Rambo III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Outside of the dynamic duo of Golan and Globus, the other producers on Over The Top were Tony Munafo (Judge Dredd, Tango & Cash, Cobra, Demolition Man) and James D. Brubaker (The Nutty Professor, The Nutty Professor II, Rhinestone, The Right Stuff, Bruce Almighty).
The musical score for Over The Top was provided by Giorgio Moroder, who also composed music for movies like Scarface, Flashdance, American Gigolo, Midnight Express, and the 1984 remake of Cat People.
The effects team for Over The Top included Bob Mills (Jackie Brown, Batman Returns, Nine Months), Christina Smith (Slipstream (2007), Small Soldiers, Congo, Jurassic Park), Rocky Gehr (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Real Genius, The Monster Squad, Speed, Waterworld), Dennis Petersen (Wild Wild West, Breaking Bad, Lethal Weapon 4, Jingle All The Way), and Richard Hill (Jonah Hex, Hollow Man, Jaws 3-D, Demolition Man, Short Circuit).
The cast of Over the Top is made up of Sylvester Stallone (Judge Dredd, Rocky IV, Rhinestone, Tango & Cash, Demolition Man, The Expendables, Death Race 2000), Robert Loggia (Big, Scarface, Holy Man), Susan Blakely (Concorde: Airport ’79, The Towering Inferno), and Rick Zumwalt (Batman Returns).
Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) is a struggling trucker who arm wrestles on the side to make extra cash while trying to rebuild his life. After the death of his wife, he tries to make amends with his son who he left behind 10 years earlier. Upon their first meeting, his son does not think too highly of him until he enters the World Arm Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas. His hope is to receive the grand prize of $100,000 and an expensive current custom semi-truck and thus start his own trucking company.
Sylvester Stallone has reportedly claimed that he agreed to do the movie based on the pay alone, and is generally unhappy with the way that the film ultimately panned out.
Over the Top was made on a production budget of $25 million, on which it grossed only $16 million in its domestic theatrical release, making it a significant financial failure. The film didn’t fare any better with critics or audiences: it currently holds an IMDb rating of 5.6, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 36% from critics and 49% from audiences.
As you would expect of just about any Cannon release from the era, Over The Top is a completely ridiculous movie, and a whole lot of fun at the same time. To say the least, it lives up to its name: the arm wrestling sequences in particular can only be described as “over the top,” in just about any way you can imagine: they are a chorus of lights, grunts, music, facial expressions, and large, angry truckers.
Typically, I am not a big fan of prominent child acting in movies. When it comes down to it, most child actors aren’t well-suited for significant roles. That said, David Mendenhall is shockingly watchable in Over The Top. I’m sure this is sort of helped by the fact that his character is written in a peculiar way that generally doesn’t leave him to his own devices to be aimlessly precocious, like many directors seem to do with child actors. He still definitely has bad moments, but his performance was far less painful than a movie like this would typically turn out.
The music in Over The Top is terrifically iconic for the late 1980s, integrating synth, rock, country, and blues into a fantastic backdrop for this odd psuedo-action movie, sounding like what I assume a dingy truck stop in the 1980s would have.
Part of the central plot of Over The Top is a “slobs vs. snobs” scenario that is fought out internally in the mind of Mendenhall’s character, Mike Hawk (heh). Throughout the movie, he is caught in the crossfire between the high-class influence of his wealthy grandfather and the blue-collar style of his long-absentee father (Stallone), and visibly transitions between the two throughout the story. While the “slobs vs. snobs” conflict is hardly unique, it plays out interestingly to have the battle waged inside the psyche of a kid.
Overall, Over The Top is a delightfully cheesy movie that delivers everything you could really want from it. There’s a sports movie component with the arm wrestling, an overly sentimental family bonding plot, some vehicular stunts, and Stallone doing his usual Stallone shtick. Personally, I see this as a must-watch for bad movie fans, up there with Stallone cheese classics like Rocky IV and Tango & Cash.
For more thoughts on Sylvester Stallone’s dip into cinematic arm-wrestling, I recommend checking out Janet Maslin’s review in The New York Times and Paul Attanasio’s brief coverage in The Washington Post. Also, the good folks at BMFcast covered it in a double feature with Hulk Hogan’s No Holds Barred, which I’ll be getting around to as well one of these days.