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'Over the Top' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 20, 1987

I don't know about you, but I go to Sylvester Stallone movies for the surprise endings. Of course, the real suspense is whether Stallone has learned to act yet, and "Over the Top" doesn't disappoint.

Needless to say, Rock 'n' Rambo has beefed up for his latest, in which the action star explores the twin themes of single parenting and arm wrestling. Stallone used a special weight to strengthen his brachialis. And what a brachialis it is, too. Naturally, the star shows off his special doctor-recommended training technique in a musical sequence -- between all the other musical sequences that flesh out the movie.

"Over the Top" is virtually a feature-length video, directed and produced by Menachem Golan, who lacks Stallone's knack for rousing the audience to cheer on our hero in his customary arena of Slo-Mo blood, sweat and sneers. Otherwise, it's basically a father-and-son story with a sugar-pop soundtrack and lots of mesas, canyons and red western scenery.

Stallone stars as Lincoln Hawk, a big-rig trucker whose dying ex-wife (brave, pale Susan Blakely) promotes a reunion between Hawk and his 12-year-old son Michael. David Mendenhall of TV's "General Hospital" costars as the poor little rich boy, cared for by Hawk's father-in-law (Robert Loggia), an arrogant trucking magnate who wants legal custody of the boy.

Hawk arrives at Michael's military school to drive the prissy young cadet to California in time for his mother's heart surgery. After a rocky start, Hawk and Mike finally bond when they discover shared interests in the manly arts of truck-driving and roadside-workouts.

Hawk, a contender at the National Arm Wrestling Championships, must win the prize money in Las Vegas or lose both his free-lance trucking business and his son to Grandpa. Can this blue-collar underdog rise to the occasion? Even though he faces an opponent three times his size with biceps like Brontosaurus drumsticks?

Does the Pope have indoor plumbing?

Stallone will never disappoint his fans intentionally. He cowrote the script (if writing is the right word) with Stirling Silliphant to formula specs, but "Over the Top" hasn't got the muscle of his "Rocky" hits. It's Stallone showing his vulnerable side, a sort of Father Knows Best -- But Can't Put It Into Words.

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