The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Over The Top’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Over The Top.”

The info:

The Movie: “Over the Top”

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, David Mendenhall, Robert Loggia

Director: Menahem Golan

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Tough trucker Lincoln Hawk is determined to win his son back and triumph at the world arm wrestling championships.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 43 percent

Our take:

Brown: A week ago, we went back and looked at a man who helped start the JOE-DOWN with Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Kickboxer: Vengeance.”

And this week, we go to an actor that the JOE-DOWN has avoided for far too long: Sylvester Stallone.

We covered the man’s bread and butter with the Rocky franchise (looking at “Rocky IV” and “Creed”), but we haven’t really taken a deep dive into some of the (REDACTED) that he has made.

Enter “Over the Top.” And our man Sly is the living embodiment of a Bruce Springsteen album: Jeans, bulging muscles, blue-collar trucking job, loves his kid and America (I assume) and ARM WRESTLING.

I’m going to turn my hat backward to become a machine and do this review. Froemming, why don’t you chug some motor oil and run us through your experience with this masterpiece.

Froemming: What I do when reviewing these films is I just try to take my hat and I 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, I don’t know, I feel like a… like a truck. Like a machine.

Yes, “Over The Top” is a movie I was introduced to in college by my friend Dan, and it was one of those moments I’ll never forget. Watching a man who drives trucks and hustles money on the side by arm wrestling with his mantra of “life doesn’t meet you halfway” as a song that constantly says “meet me halfway” plays throughout was truly a magical cinematic experience.

Brown: Well, “Meet Me Halfway” would be a terrible movie title. So, “Over the Top” it is.

Froemming: Then I told you to watch this, and I believe I made you a fan of this ridiculously stupid movie.

Brown:

Oh, I saw this movie long before you ever recommended it, Froemming. Hell, I remember playing “Track & Field II” on the NES, which had an arm wrestling competition that was ripped off straight from this movie.

In fact, years ago, I had Independence Day off and spent it downing adult drinks and watching “Over the Top” in my apartment. I believe you insulted me for doing this.

Froemming:

Brown: But enough about our personal struggles. We need to get into the story of Lincoln Hawk … or Hawks. This movie has no idea what the main character’s last name is. I’ll let you lead us off, Froemming.

Froemming: Yup. They don’t know his last name, even though it is written on the side of his damn truck.

Well, we kick this off with Hawk(s?) driving across the country to pick up his snot-nosed brat of a child, Michael, who is graduating from military school. We see Mike doesn’t have any parents or family there to watch him on his big day. To be fair, his mother is sick and his grandfather is kind of a (REDACTED).

But his grandfather did get him a sweet limo ride back home, but that is changed because his estranged father, Hawk(s?), shows up on the mother’s request to bring the kid home and get to know his old man.

Brown: First, seeing Lincoln drive to the graduation (which he doesn’t make on time because he’s busy buffing the bird hood ornament he has on his truck), it was by woods that reminded me a lot of “First Blood.” I feel like Sly wanted to revisit the town he slaughtered a bunch of cops in.

Then, when Lincoln walks up to the military school, everyone is eyeballing him like he’s this mysterious weirdo or a celebrity. Guys, it’s graduation day, there are a bunch of weird parents walking around everywhere. I understand that Lincoln has no fashion sense with his suspenders-tie combination but give the guy a break.

So Michael gets called into the Colonel’s office because he’s been informed that he is to drive home with his father and not in his grandpa’s limo. Michael (rightfully) asks for ID, since he’s never met his father, and he is given a wedding photo. I mean, this is before the days of photoshop and Lincoln doesn’t seem savvy enough to doctor a photo so, you know, whatever.

Froemming: Things are off to a rocky start (pun intended). Michael is weary of this strange man with the fashion sense of a blind man.

As the start their trek, Lincoln suggests they grab something to eat. Michael then goes off on a tangent about cholesterol and diet to the man who won the Cold War when he beat Ivan Drago.

So, right away we know this kid is insufferable, and when shortly after this he runs into oncoming traffic, I sort of hoped for the worst case scenario. We didn’t get that, we get the two of them at a diner, where Michael once again points out the lethal amount of carbs in the meal Lincoln wants to get, as if this wasn’t the man who won the Vietnam War a decade after it ended.

Brown: Oh, I put in my notes that Michael is a bigger buzzkill than Skyler from “Breaking Bad.” You just spent how many years at a military school and you’re ragging on your old man for wanting to buy you a chicken-fried steak? Dumb baby. I’ll take him at his word when this walking dictionary understands how terrible an idea it is to run into a freeway.

Something that bugs me: Michael decides not to ask Lincoln why he left him and his mother until 40 minutes into the movie. That would be the first question on my mind!

But who cares about awkward family questions, because there is a mulleted trucker clearly on speed that wants to throw down with Hawk(s?). We’re not fighting. We’re ARM WRESTLING. And we have a diner full of truckers who paid to see blood arm wrestling.

This is the seedy underbelly of the trucker’s lifestyle. My big regret is not asking my late grandfather, who was a trucker for Frito-Lay, if he ever arm wrestled before he passed away.

Froemming: The testosterone is thick in this little diner, what with these arm wrestling truckers hopped up on cheap speed and hankering for violence, via their arms.

Well, Hawk(s?) agrees to take on this reject ‘80s generic wrestler for some cash on the side. And it is during this first match we see Hawk(s?) has this weird Jedi Arm Wrestling Trick, where he wiggles his fingers over his opponent’s hand and, like Hulk Hogan’s body spasm, suddenly becomes unbeatable.

He wins. He gets some cash. And we have a weird exchange with the kinda-antagonist of this film, Bob “Bull” Hurley, who wants to take Lincoln on right after this victory.

Brown: Major, major problem with Bull just walking up to a child sitting by himself and asking Michael, “You with him?” If ever there was a textbook definition of stranger danger, this would be it.

We do meet our main antagonist of this film in Jason Cutler, Michael’s grandfather, who is adamant about having Michael returned to him. After all, Lincoln left the family and we see that Michael’s mom/Cutler’s daughter is in the hospital.

Now, what is she sick with, exactly? The movie will never tell us. My belief is she suffers from a terminal case of plot contrivance. The main symptom, according to this movie, is not wearing makeup and not washing your hair. Plot contrivance has taken more lives than the Funky Cold Medina.

So it dawns on Michael that his dad hustles people out of money via arm wrestling. It didn’t dawn on you that your old man was into arm wrestling when he installs the (REDACTED) tricep pull-down machine in the (REDACTED) truck?!

Froemming: This would have been my second question to Hawk(s?), the first being why he left the family: What the (REDACTED) is up with this pull-down machine in the cab of your truck?

Also, we never know why Lincoln left the family. His son asks him this sincere question, and mumbles a bunch of “made bad decisions” nonsense as his reply.

But after spending a bunch of time watching this kid, I’m pretty sure Michael is the reason Lincoln left the family.

Well, Michael starts going off on how truckers and lower income people don’t read and are as dumb as 13-year-olds, and Hawk(s?) has had enough. He pulls the truck over and dares this future Jared Kushner to try and do what he does: Drive a semi truck. It is not as easy as it looks folks.

Brown: Michael can do everything Lincoln can. He’s Mike Hawk! You should really say that name to yourself, folks. Then laugh at the people who wrote the script.

Froemming: It is a name I am pretty sure Bart Simpson would use when prank calling Moe’s Tavern.

Brown: Speaking of doing everything that Lincoln can do, Michael forays into arm wrestling and … Hawk(s?) just makes it weird.

First, he puts money on it and keeps telling Michael, “Pump it kid! Pump it! Over the top! Over the top!”

Next, the kid that Michael is arm wrestling may as well be a random goon from “Double Dragon,” complete with Valeo gloves, sleeveless vest and mullet. And he says, “Kid, if I lose to you, I’d kill myself.”

Two out of three, Michael loses the first but wins the next two by going over the top. I had to research it and apparently that’s not an illegal move. It certainly seems illegal, though.

Michael calls his mom all proud like, “Mom, I hustled a kid out of a dollar! I’m a real man.” And all she can muster is “That’s nice. Put your father on the phone.”

She gave up on this kid a long time ago. Considering his lectures to his dad in the truck, can’t say I blame her.

Michael gets kidnapped by Cutler’s goons, which include pro wrestling legend Terry Funk. They rip off the truck/semi chase from the first “Terminator” and Lincoln rescues his stupid son.

Froemming: We then go to the tried and true formula of any Stallone flick: Montage over the character development so we can get to the action faster. So we see, to a song probably done by Frank Stallone, Lincoln and his boy bonding as they travel back to California.

Brown: NOPE! The song is done by ‘80s movie staple Kenny Loggins!

Froemming: Same thing.

Brown: Don’t ever slander Kenny Loggins again by saying he’s the same as Frank (REDACTED) Stallone.

Froemming: You need to calm the (REDACTED) down, pal. Kenny Loggins went downhill after he left Loggins and Messina.

Anyway, I am wondering something. Why didn’t Hawk(s?) call the cops on this abduction attempt? I mean, I think I would have. Pretty sure Brown would, even though he is a dirty communist. Not Lincoln. I would chalk it up to being punch drunk, but he is not Rocky in this film and he just arm wrestles. Maybe his kid was onto something with him being a dolt.

Brown: So, Lincoln abandoned Michael and his mom… what if it was because he was shipped off to Vietnam, came back and massacred the entire police force of a small Oregon town? Clearly, Robert Loggia would have a reason to keep Michael away from this blood-thirsty maniac. We are through the looking glass, people!

Froemming: We now enter the sad part of the film. Lincoln and his son arrive at the mom’s hospital, only to find she has passed away from her bout with plot contrivance. This causes Michael to run off and hop into a cab to his grandfather’s house. Michael believes he would have been there for his mother if he wasn’t traveling with his arm wrestling pop.

Hawk(s?) wants to get his boy back, and this leads to one of my favorite moments in 80s cinema (right after this gem). When the goons at the grandfather’s place tell him to put an egg in his shoe and beat it, Lincoln does what any sane person would: Drive his (REDACTED) truck through the gates and into the house!

Brown: Before that, when the doctor gives Hawk(s?) the news about his ex-wife passing away, he makes a facial expression that I can only describe as when a person gets called out for their white privilege. It’s like equal parts anger, sadness, shock. I’m sure it’s one of those moments when Sly thought he was doing some real acting. He looked like he had to poop instead.

As for the ultra-aggressive act of driving his truck through Cutler’s house… I mean, way to kill any leverage you have for a custody battle. Earlier in the movie, Cutler’s high-priced attorney says that Cutler has no case because he’s not the father of the child. I think the court will side with the grandpa after the dad, you know, tried to commit vehicular manslaughter.

And really, Cutler has been more of a father to that kid than Lincoln ever was. At the risk of sounding like a PSA, I’ll stop there. Michael shouldn’t be living truck stop to truck stop is what I’m getting at.

Froemming: I wrote in my notes a few times that Child Protective Services would have a field day with what Lincoln has put Michael through.

Well, Lincoln is arrested and in jail, he signs over his custody rights in exchange of Cutler not pressing charges against him. I truly believe Lincoln felt free for the first time in a long while when he did that.

And now we head to Las Vegas, for the World Armwrestling Championship, which is a thing I guess, and Lincoln’s big chance at bettering his life with prize money and a new truck.

Brown: A new truck? How convenient!

Look, we’ve joked this whole review about the Hawk v. Hawks thing but here is the best example of it in this movie. When Lincoln sells his truck for $7,000 to bet on himself, here’s the following scene:
Lincoln: “What are the odds on Lincoln Hawk?”
Guy: “Hawks? Let me check. What are the odds on Lincoln Hawks?”
Girl: “Hawks… 20-to-1.”

Guy: “20-to-1 pal, long shot.”

THEY CAN’T GET THE GUY’S LAST NAME RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS (REDACTED) FACE!

I tried to keep a tally throughout the movie, he’s called Hawks at least eight times. EIGHT!

So as Hawk(s?) gets ready to arm wrestle, Michael finds an old purse of his mom’s that holds a bunch of letters from Lincoln meant for his son. His dad wasn’t lying! His dad was a bad guy who abandoned him twice now that he signed away custody, but he wasn’t lying. Michael wants to be with his dad now!

So what does any 13-year-old child with love in his heart do? Why, steal a truck, drive to the airport and fly from L.A. to Las Vegas to find his old man!

Now, Froemming, bring us into the lunacy of the arm wrestling tournament which I remind you is double elimination.

Froemming: Was it double elimination? I am not sure, because I think they only mentioned it about 37 times in 20 minutes.

Now we see what looked a lot like the time I went to a monster truck rally: Big angry guys yelling at one another. My favorite of these goons is John Grizzly, who eats cigars, drinks motor oil and, because he is a human, not a machine, drinks Alka-Seltzer to calm his gut. Also, I had to briefly pause to see who played him, because for a moment I thought it might have been “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, but it was not.

Lincoln throws down $7 grand on himself to win, which is OK in this sport, but apparently Pete Rose wasn’t allowed to do that himself in MLB. At 20-1 odds, if he wins, he walks out with a cool $140,000. And his prize money and a new truck. Which tells me only truck drivers arm wrestle professionally because a non-truck driver would have no interest in that rig.

Brown: I’m going to jump ahead a little bit, but I’m glad you brought up what Hawk(s?) could win. Because some simple math makes him a colossal idiot.

So, the prize for this tournament is $100,000, plus the $140,000 Hawk(s?) would take if he wins the whole thing. And, the brand-new truck.

Now, after Hawk(s?) takes a loss in the double-elimination tournament (I need to remind you again), Cutler has a proposition for Lincoln. $500,000 plus a new truck so Hawk(s?) will stay out of Cutler’s life for good.

How do you not take that if you’re Lincoln?! You already signed away custody! You have no legal leg to stand on. You stand to make over a quarter of a million dollars more than you do in this tournament.

Here, I’ll let Lord Humungus tell you what to do, Hawk(s?):

Froemming: Life doesn’t meet you halfway, Brown. Unless we listen to that song that tells us to meet halfway, which makes this movie baffling at times. Lincoln is there to win the truck and money for himself.

Brown: You take the sure thing! Bull Hurley is a five-time world champion.

Froemming: Lincoln walks away from this encounter, and we have Terry Funk telling him the conversation is not over. Look, I know he is a big dude, but this is prime Stallone, his arms are mountains of muscle. So, Lincoln punches him in the gut and through the glass door. I was hoping we would have gotten someone getting cut open with a folding chair at this point.

But Hawk(s?) has his tourney to attend to. He is in the finals. And, oh yeah, Michael is there after stealing a car and hopping on an airplane…yeah, that made no sense to me. I don’t see an airport just letting some child jet off to Vegas on his own. Even if he had a major credit card and whatnot.

Brown: Before we reach the climax, the whole arm wrestling tournament is bananas. So many sweaty, overgrown dudes (and some girls). At one point, a man gets his elbow legit dislocated in a scene that makes me cringe every time.

And, what are these divisions they arm wrestle in? Lincoln is in the independent trucker division? There’s a teamsters division?

You know what would be a legit way to have divisions? By weight, like wrestling or boxing or MMA. Look, I know Sly has to beat the burly champion so we can all leave the theater happy, but dude has more than 100 pounds on him. You ain’t winning that, Hawk(s?).

Froemming: Hawk(s?) himself doesn’t think he can take down Bull. He has injured his arm, and is doubting himself. Then Michael shows up, and Hawk(s?) really doesn’t seem that surprised and/or upset his child is in Vegas by himself. Michael tells him the same lines he told his boy earlier about winning. This gives Hawk(s?) the gumption to at least try and win the tournament.

But you are right: There is no way Lincoln should be even close to competing against Bull. The guy is a beast with a wicked mustache!

Brown: And now is time for the biggest plot hole in this entire movie. Shouldn’t Lincoln have to beat Bull twice? The answer is no and we’re never told why.

So the first time they lock up, Lincoln’s grip slips while he was very close to being put down. He should be disqualified. Nope! They strap the two together, but not after Bull punches Lincoln. The refs never say he’s docked a loss for that, only that he “loses two points.” We have points in arm wrestling now?!

Froemming: I think they play fast and loose with the rules here. It is like they are making it up as they go along.

Brown: So in an epic encounter, Hawk(s?) goes over the top and defeats Bull. And it’s over? They said Bull hasn’t lost in five years!

This is the world championships, Froemming! You don’t get to play fast and loose with the rules here. We repeat over and over and over and over that this is a double-elimination tournament and we just ignore that?! AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO GIVES A (REDACTED) ABOUT THE RULES?!

Froemming: Well, he did use his Jedi Arm Wrestling Trick of wiggling his fingers over his opponent’s hand and winning. I really wondered why they broke the double-elimination rule for this match. It…makes no sense. And remember, Stallone co-wrote the screenplay of this film. He should know better!

Even more odd, Cutler just lets his grandson go off with the man he has been trying to ruin all through this film, having a change of heart after Hawk(s?) won the tournament. That is some lazy (REDACTED) writing right there.

Brown: Why are we not using arm wrestling to settle custody battles instead of going through the messy court system. Guess we’ll let the suits in Washington figure that out.

Let’s drive our truck through a mansion and go to recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: Dumb ending aside, I’m all about this movie. It’s pure ‘80s terrible movie joy.

Froemming: No brainer. Watch this movie. It is one of those “it’s so bad it’s good” films.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

July is Sports Month for the JOE-DOWN, and we will kick it off with this: