In the height of the power-ballad filled 1980’s where tempers were as long as the hair, producer-director Menahem Golan and mega action star-writer Sylvester Stallone teamed up to deliver the ultra-cheesy Over the Top.
The original story written by Gary Conway and David Engelbach, features Stallone as Lincoln Hawk, a long-haul truck driver trying to mend a broken relationship with his estranged son, Michael, who recently graduated from the Military Academy, wants nothing to do with his father. The always strong Robert Loggia plays Jason, Christina’s dad. He figures that since he was a huge part of Michael’s formative years, he would take care of his grandson. Christina, played by Susan Blakely, has other plans for Michael’s reunion with Hawk.
In addition to being a long-haul truck driver, Hawk is a competitive arm wrestler. While he competes at truck stops throughout the country, his ultimate goal is to compete at the national championships in Las Vegas where “Bull” Hurley (Rick Zumwalt) awaits him.
Golan’s direction is all over the place, plagued by a lack of a defined villain. Yes, Loggia is the heavy as is Zumwalt. A staple of Stallone’s scripts and 80’s films in general, the theme is the “heavy” and our greatest enemy is our selves: “The world meets no body halfway. If you want it, you gotta take it!” Michael comes from a life of privilege, and has not had to work for the things in his life. Hawk hopes to instill this attribute in him. While this theme is clearly Stallone, the characters were very much a combination of Stallone and co-screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.
Golan was famous for mid-budget films with his producing partner Yoram Globus. Together, they made a lot of money, but didn’t necessarily invest back into their films. Over the Top seems to be an example where the money simply ran out.
Cinematographer David Garfinkel came to the rescue. Featuring numerous locations throughout the Southwestern United States, Garfinkel was able to capture the beauty of the landscapes, conveying the sense of a road-trip film. His interior camera work inside the Las Vegas Hilton boxing ring, the chase sequences in downtown Los Angeles, and those shot at the Kirkeby mansion in Bel Air seemed to be the most coherent, really strengthening the film’s look.
It appeared as if the production didn’t capture enough footage, leaving editors James Symons and Don Zimmerman very little wiggle room to craft a final film. Just as with the cinematography, Symons and Zimmerman focused on the center pieces of the film, tightly editing the scenes in Bel Air and the third act featuring the lead up to and the actual competition in Vegas. Outside of these two main sequences, the film struggles to maintain a sense of time. At the beginning of the movie, Hawk mentioned the road trip would take two days without a real sense of the distance being covered.
Giorgio Moroder’s distinctive sound punctuates the film carrying the themes with his orchestral compositions. He also collaborated with Sammy Hagar on “Winner Takes It All” and Kenny Loggins’ “Meet Me Half Way.”
Warner Brothers distributed the film domestically, opening in 1,758 screens, on February 13, 1987 against Mannequin, Outrageous Fortune, and Platoon, eventually earning $16 million domestically against a $25 million budget.
Despite the muddled feel of the film, Stallone is triumphant, and this yarn is a cult-classic. It is one of his weaker films. But that won’t stop you from enjoying its timeless themes.