Building on the success of “Yellowstone,” Paramount+ and producer Taylor Sheridan have seemingly seized on a streaming strategy built around casting veteran movie stars, an available commodity in an industry known for ageism. Enter “Tulsa King,” a slim vehicle for Sylvester Stallone that’s a little too overtly designed as a mobster fish out of water.
Stallone’s Dwight Manfredi (who says he was named after Eisenhower, no less) gets released back into the world after 25 years in prison, only to find that those running the mob in his old stomping grounds of New York – some of whom were “kids,” at least to him, when he went away to protect them – don’t want him around.
“There’s nothing left for you here,” says the new boss (“The Wire’s” Domenick Lombardozzi), noting, “We can’t just rewind the clock.”
Conceptually, though, that’s exactly what “Tulsa King” does, or at least tries to do, exiling Dwight to the dreary confines of Oklahoma. In short order, he quickly hires a driver (Jay Will) and sets about proving that he can continue earning even in the hinterlands, muscling into a business relationship with the local pot dispensary for starters.
Dwight isn’t above punching people in the face when they deserve it, which can be helpful in negotiations, determined to demonstrate to the boys back home that if he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere.
“Tulsa King” turns out to be a rather odd mix of attributes, relying almost entirely on Stallone’s movie-star charisma as the show alternates between sitcom conventions and R-rated “The Sopranos”-flecked flourishes. When a woman meets him and later tells him she thought he was 55 (he cops to being 20 years older than that), it’s clear that a little ego stroking is also part of the formula.
While Stallone holds the screen, some of the sitcom touches are weak and too obvious, with Dwight acting like he’s unfamiliar with anything that happened on the outside during the time he was behind bars, shaking his head at cellphones, credit cards and stores that don’t accept cash, his preferred means of transacting deals.
As noted, streaming in general, and Paramount in particular, have become havens for older stars, with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren due in the “Yellowstone” prequel “1932” next month. After Stallone’s other recent streaming venture with the movie “Samaritan” on Amazon, the fact that the poster displays his name in big letters above the title makes clear what they’re selling here, and with streamers sparring for attention, it’s not a bad fight plan.
In that sense, “Tulsa King” suggests maybe you can rewind the clock, just a little, even if you’re gonna fly a little bit lower now.
“Tulsa King” premieres November 13 on Paramount+.