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Junkfood Cinema: Over the Top

By  · Published on January 28th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: we will not meet you halfway. This is the internet column that, weekly, finds itself on the losing end of a wrestling match with good taste. Every Friday I shovel a truckload of terrible into your eye sockets in the form of a terrifically bad film. I cut the hulking turkey down to size by noting exactly what makes it so bad, but then raise it’s arm victoriously by confessing my all-consuming love for it. To really drive the disaster home, I will then pair the film with an appropriately inappropriate snack food item to execute a perfect takedown of your girlish figure.

Since the inception of this column, there have been a few old standards whose perpetual schlockyness has made them easy, if consistently hilarious, targets. In an effort to spread the mockery around and not unfairly single out a select few, I promised myself that I would avoid roasting Sylvester Stallone for as much of 2011 as I possibly could…I made it to the last week of January. You’re welcome Sly!

Today’s Snack: Over the Top

What Makes It Bad?

I’m often quick to point out absurd concepts in bad movies. Often times the barometer for differentiating between an unbearably bad film and one that I love is how wholeheartedly the film embraces that absurdity. On the age-old continuum of absurdity, on the one end is the idea that running away and winning a video game tournament will reunite your broken family. A bit further down the line is break dancing to save a youth center. Finally, miles down that continuum ‐ like take two trains and a minicab to get there down the line ‐ is expecting an audience to swallow that anyone could win custody of their child via arm wrestling. Yeah, because our court systems were founded on the principals of the gospel according to Popeye.

But I submit to you that the “arm wrestling to win my son back” is not the most absurd plot device in film. Hell, it’s not even the most absurd plot device in this film. It has to compete with the fact that Stallone legally has custody of his child THE MOMENT HIS WIFE DIES, and still has to win it back. The kid’s grandpa, who totally does not have legal custody, kidnaps him and the cops arrest Stallone for trying to take him back. And everyone seems ok with this. The grandpa’s lawyer confronts Stallone with this bit of legal wizardry, “if you contest custody [which again he already has], you won’t have a prayer, we have the finest law firms.” Really? That’s your position of strength? Only a complete doofus with the IQ of a pretzel would fall for tha ‐ oh, I see. But the biggest b.s. of Over the Top is the idea that thousands upon thousands of people would actually show up to watch neckless, sweaty beef sacks grunt at each other and display extremely marginal athletic prowess. Put that back on the shelf next to the 17 VHS copies of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot because I ain’t buying it.

The worst part of all this is that Stallone’s son is a total mini-tool. I can’t stand that irritating, albeit super polite, little asshole and I don’t see how anyone could. He treats Stallone like garbage and at one point tries to run away across several lanes of oncoming traffic forcing Sly to chase after him; no regard for his father or public safety. And clearly he is no friend of Junkfood Cinema because he convinces Stallone not to eat Chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes because it’s “unhealthy.” Shut your stupid mouth twerp! Seriously, is it actually the loser of the tournament who’s then forced to adopt this brat? It is impressive that he convinces TWA to sell a plane ticket to an unaccompanied minor; could never remake this film in post-9/11 America.

What is up with sad sack Stallone in this film? His droopy eyes seem as though they are inches from dragging on the sidewalk and, when you watch the Blu-ray, I swear you can see his lip quiver on more than once occasion. He seriously looks like he’s been listening to Band of Horses and watching Grey’s Anatomy for weeks. It is a totally appropriate character choice when his son is taken from him or his wife dies. But he starts out super sad despite the fact that he’s about to meet his son for the first time and go on a road trip with him. My only theory is that maybe he’s upset about having to wear denim…exclusively. I’m surprised his character’s name wasn’t Levi McWranglerKlein. Even the attire he wears to his wife’s funeral is a pair of blue jeans with a black jean shirt. Because you know, he’s mourning.

Why I Love It!

You gotta love a movie featuring a title that doubles as a caveat. If you don’t know within the first five minutes whether or not you are on board with Over the Top, you managed to slip into a coma just after pressing play. The movie was directed by Cannon Films co-creator Menahem Golan and the dubious Cannon mark of quality is all over this thing. Where did they get this truck driver arm wrestling subculture? They must have done extensive research on truckers by way of Zubaz commercials and gay porn. The minute Stallone and his son are finally connecting, he ditches him at the lunch counter because he can’t back down from an arm wrestling challenge?! The bizarre intensity he adopts is hilariously misplaced and where the movie manifests much of its charm. Believe me when I say he gets intense, really intense, like Stallone trying to do long division intense. The moment that hat spins around and the cheesiest of cheesy music in the history of cheesy cinema starts, you know it’s on! The movie also has the very real distinction of featuring the worst montages of Stallone’s career…worse than Rocky IV. Awesome!

As ridiculous as the concept is, I’m enthralled by the potential. Let’s think about this logically. Consider all the death, grief, and deceit that would be circumvented if everything were solved by arm wrestling. To that end, I have compiled a list of major conflicts that would have been better served solved by arm wrestling:

— The Civil War

— Operation Desert Storm

— The Coca-Cola Wars

— Kramer vs. Kramer

— Brown vs. The Board of Education

It’s kind of hard not to love Stallone in this film. Despite his less than nonexistent knowledge of parenting, the lengths he goes to in order to get his son back are so sweet…in a plastic scissors/short school bus kind of way. By the end of the film, Over the Top creates a cynicism black hole that leaves you only with sappy, gooey enthusiasm and powerful fist pumps. The true feat of Over the Top is not simply making a man competing in an arm wrestling tournament so lovable, but somehow injecting drama into a “sport” that always ends within 5 seconds. Also, the faux documentary style to which Over the Top suddenly switches near the end will have you rolling on the floor. It’s a lot like Exit Through the Gift Shop…in no way whatsoever.

The topper to all of this is the Blu-ray. As bad as Over the Top is, and is a skyscraper-sized turd, it is beautifully shot. The desert landscapes over which Stallone and his son travel in their big rig are breathtaking and look even more gorgeous in high definition. It sounds absurd to even say this, but Over the Top has fantastic cinematography and looks far better than its subject matter possibly deserves.

You could write the world’s funniest joke book by simply compiling all the hackneyed quotes from Over the Top. First of all, “over the top” has become my favorite new exclamation. In a situation where I would usually shout, “that’s awesome” or “this olive loaf is delicious,” or “your baby is adorable, Peter Hall,” I now exalt “over the top!” And then there’s the astute gentleman in the film who perfectly summarizes his athletic abilities by observing, “my whole body is an engine and my fist is a fireplug.” I’m sorry, what? No, no, let me rephrase, WHAT?! Or how about this one, for the kids: “being number one is everything, there is no second place…second sucks.” Over the Top!

Junkfood Pairing: Glazed Donuts

What? Why donuts? Who in the movie eats donuts or even mentions donuts? Pipe down pipsqueak or I’ll break your arm. In the climactic scene in which all the refrigerator-sized competitors with Acura-sized arms are making their way through the double elimination tournament, you can’t help but notice a slight shimmer. And by “slight,” I mean the movie must have been sponsored by either Johnson & Johnson or Crisco because I’ve seen contestants at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant who weren’t as oiled up as these guys. The whole time I couldn’t help but ponder how much their giant arms looked like enormous glazed donuts. And then I wanted a glazed donut. And then I had some difficult questions to ask myself. Over the Top!

Hungry for more? Of course you’re not, but you should read more Junkfood Cinema anyway

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.