Last night we watched the first episode of Tulsa King, the new Paramount+ series starring Sylvester Stallone. Created by Taylor Sheridan, one of the creators of Yellowstone, Tulsa King is the story of a mobster (don’t call him a “gangster,” incidentally), Dwight Manfredi, who is released from prison after 25 years. Because he didn’t rat out anybody, he expects to be welcomed back with open arms and given a prominent place in the family business in New York City. Instead, he’s exiled to Tulsa, Oklahoma and told to take over the town.
We’re only one episode in, but Tulsa King looks promising so far. It’s got the fish out of water element, with the street-wise New Yorker schooling the credulous, safe-in-middle- America Bible Belters about crime, and also the Rip Van Winkle element, with Dwight having been in the Big House for 25 years and not knowing about things like iPhones and Uber. Stallone has always had good comedic talent and timing–Demolition Man, for example, includes lots of funny scenes, and so do some of the Rocky movies–and he does a good job with the humorous parts of Tulsa Kings.
The real challenge in the show, however, is the tough guy stuff. It seems weird to question the ability of Sylvester Stallone, the guy who brought to life Rocky, Rambo, and countless other hard-ass characters, to carry off the action scenes, but the actor is 76 years old. He’s evidently had some facial work–his cheeks look puffy, and his eyebrows are perpetually raised–and physically he looks to be in pretty good shape. But when your star is in his 70s, you’ve got to be careful not to strain the viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. In the first episode, Dwight coldcocks one younger guy, punches out a few others, throws a water bottle that knocks out a tubby security guard, and has a bedroom encounter with a much younger woman. It all was reasonably plausible–Dwight may have been a workout fiend during those 25 years in the clink, right?–but let’s hope the show doesn’t use CGI to have the star chasing down a fleeing truck, defeating multiple attackers with kung fu moves, or beating up an Apollo Creed lookalike.
America is growing older, so it makes sense that action characters would grow older, too. Who knows? “Elder action” might become an entirely new genre on TV and in theaters. I’ll be interested in seeing how Sylvester Stallone’s character develops in Tulsa King, and whether he experiences some of the issues that afflict the rest of us who are aging out. And I’ll also be interested in seeing how Harrison Ford, who is 80, is presented in the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which is to be released next year. You’d expect Indy to be using a lot more of his gun and a lot less of his whip at that age. Will Indy–who once famously observed that “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage”–recognize that the years take their toll, too?