Sunday, April 24, 2011

Over the Top (1987)

By 1987, Hollywood was cranking out roughly 7.3 movies about boxing every year, with Stallone's Rocky sequels serving as a prototype for the brainless summer action sequel 25 years before that was standard practice. Stallone therefore ventured forth to bring another underdog story from a sport nobody cares that much about home to middle America: he came back with competitive arm wrestling. Because what could be more cinematic than watching a grown man make a pained expression while standing perfectly still?

I feel like this sums up the movie pretty well: freakish arm, truck crash, hawk decal.

Even though we're promised a movie about competitive arm wrestling, we inexplicably begin with a montage of Stallone washing down his truck and a military school graduation. We eventually learn that Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) (or is it Lincoln Hawks?) is an absentee father who hasn't seen his son (David Mendenhall) in... a long time. The child's mother (Susan Blakely) instructs Hawk to pick up his son and take him to the hospital where she is having a major operation for... something.

Young Hawk isn't impressed by his trucker father and tries to run away, then lectures Hawk on the dangers of cholesterol poisoning. Because that is a thing 12 year olds in military school totally care about. At a truck stop, Hawk the Younger witnesses his father win an arm wrestling contest against a random angry man who insisted on challenging Hawk while he tried to poison himself by cholesterol in peace. Young Hawk calls his father a "hustler" for accepting another person's challenge, then beating them. The two bond when, the next day, Hawk insults a 15-year-old hooligan playing pinball at a truck stop arcade so that his son will have to arm wrestle said hooligan. Young Hawk is able to defeat the larger boy thanks to a pep talk about how he is spoiled and needs to believe in himself.

When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way!

Meanwhile, Hawk's father in law, Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia), is so opposed to father-son bonding that he contracts his henchmen to go and kidnap his grandson for him. The goons manage to grab the son and take him for about a half mile before Hawk crashes his rig into their car. The failed kidnapping attempt is never brought up later when the rich old man threatens to unleash his lawyers on Hawk if he doesn't relinquish his custody.

Look, Optimus Prime thinks he's people!

The sullen Hawk gives up his son in order to follow his dream: he sells his rig and uses the proceeds to bet on himself in the big arm wrestling tournament. Meanwhile, Little Hawk finds a cache of letters, birthday cards, and uncashed checks that prove that his father always did love him and that his grandfather is a mean old man. The twelve year old steals a car, then purchases airline tickets, then gets to Las Vegas in a testament to how lazy airline security was 25 years ago. Seriously did this 12 year old in 1987 have a credit card or did he just carry wads of twenty dollar bills around?

Stallone month constantly reminds you to drink more Pepsi.

At this point the movie bizarrely turns into a cinema verite arm wrestling show, complete with colorful wacky characters and promos delivered directly to the camera. Hawk is pretty much the least interesting guy in this competition: the most colorful thing about him is he turns his hat around and makes a face when he gets "in the zone." We finally get a big showdown where Hawk has to use his right arm against his arch-rival Bull and his other arch-rival his father-in-law, not necessarily in that order. Will Hawk and Son reunite? Will Hawk be able to win the contest and his son's love? Will the 15 year old from the arcade ever get his re-match? To find out, you'll have to watch the movie.

"You're my son and I believe in you! But you're also weak and
whine a lot and look like you're going to cry when someone
beats you at arm wrestling." -Father of the Year Lincoln Hawk

All in all, this movie is one of the lows in a career that has more valleys than peaks: it's about a sport that's visually boring and nobody over 11 cares about, features a maudlin plot and an annoying child actor, and Stallone is as boring and terrible as he always is. In my Demolition Man review I mentioned that Wesley Snipes was the reason to watch: here, no villain has significant screen time and the two antagonists are an evil rich guy and a big strong guy who mostly just growls. Neither provide much in the way of an entertaining diversion from a whiny brat child or Stallone's mumbling. With a 93 minute run-time, the movie is in such a colossal hurry we never figure out why exactly Stallone abandoned his infant son, something that ordinarily is the kind of thing you should probably explain to your son when he asks about it.

I am pretty sure that is a shaved bear.

The film also splits its energies so awkwardly between arm wrestling and father/son bonding that neither element has much of an arc. Seriously it made me nostalgic for JCVD's Kumite tournament way back in Bloodsport, where the opposing competitors had enough personality that I knew who they were . Also, since it was martial arts, all those guys had distinct styles and weren't a bunch of almost identical "burly white man with beard and huge biceps." All of the arm wrestling contests are so dull and brief they are about as engrossing as watching someone play Battleship for 30 seconds at a time while desperately trying not to crap themselves.

Also like Battleship, Over the Top is simply too manly for women to appreciate.

Memorable Quotes:

Bull Hurley: Being number one is everything. There is no second place. Second sucks.

Bull Hurley: What are you doing with that guy?
Michael Cutler: He's my father.
Bull Hurley: Too bad.

"Mad Dog" Madison: I'm not so enthused about people coming up and patting me on the back saying "you're the best". I don't need people to do that to me. If I win, its because I wanted to be the best one time in my life.

Pinball boy: Kid, if I couldn't beat you, I'd KILL MYSELF.

Lincoln Hawk: What I do is, I try to take my hat, and I just try to turn it around, and it's like a switch that goes on. And when the switch goes on, I feel like another person, I feel like a, I don't know, like one of these (gestures to truck). Like a machine.

The Drinking Game:

Drink every time someone shouts "Hawk!" Chug every time they say "Hawks!" This happens way more than it should:

1 comment:

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