Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Over the Top

Sylvester Stallone's brief dalliance with The Cannon Group concludes with Over the Top, a picturesque, would-be tearjerker direct from company head Menahem Golan. Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, an absentee father looking to reconnect with his son before the film's climax press-gangs him into an all-consuming arm-wrestling contest. Over the Top does little to tap into Stallone The Star, his take on Hawk is reserved bordering on flat. Golan instead uses the actor as the personification of inexpressive masculinity.

Despite a few airbrushed posters focused around Stallone's steely, action-ready musculature, Over the Top takes a different tact for the majority of its runtime, unspooling from the perspective of his onscreen son. David Mendenhall's Michael is a child trapped in the company of a parent he doesn't know or really understand. Hawk is a wandering trucker obsessed with bicep expanding repetition, Michael is a hesitant, fragile little boy boxed off to a military academy by his mobbed-up Grandfather so he can learn how to sneer at poor people.

Like all remote, emotionally cool movie fathers, Hawk struggles to comprehend a child that is an individual rather than an extension of himself. Hawk pushes his son into emotional and physical arenas that he has himself mastered with the intention of stressing their innate, biological kinship. Conflict demands Michael fail outright but in the end an ill-advised arm-wrestling contest with a diner tough becomes a confidence builder for the son rather than an opportunity for the father to manage his peculiar expectations. Disappointingly, Over the Top isn't interested in Michael failing or Hawk growing.

Over the Top has the constituent parts to create something quite interesting. Stallone was living, breathing pop culture at this point while Mendenhall is able to communicate a real sense of desperation - although the child star displays a relentlessly toothy smile, his eyes are wide with real mania. Whether or not this is actual acting or simply the boy's physical reaction to playing against Rocky is irrelevant. It works for the character. Unfortunately, Stallone isn't asked to do anything as taxing as love a child that doesn't measure up to his own brawny standards. Over the Top is all the poorer for that.

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