A User’s Guide To Loving Crappy B Action Movies Like '22 Bullets' And 'The Reunion'

Straight-to-DVD action films are pretty much everywhere on streaming channels, but they’re more than just channel filler.

There’s always been a wholly pure joy in enjoying a low budget action film. Stripped of summer budget pomp, these film have to rely on a different set of tricks to connect with an audience. Like a relic dug up from the best years of the 1990s, these films spin wildly ambitious stories that rely on their actors and their writing to move things along. These aren’t simply two hours of strung together set pieces; they don’t have the budget for that.

Admittedly, a lot of these films are dismal failures, but no one ever said the razor-thin line between good schlock and bad schlock was easy to traverse. When its pumping on all cylinders, a well-executed straight-to-DVD film is a thing of beauty. Even when the engine could use some oil there’s often something redeeming for action film fans to enjoy. You just have to know how to handle these additions to your streaming options.

So, sit back, relax, and get ready to enjoy watching some dude shoot some other dude right in his goddamn face.

They Are Plentiful

Among the myriad gifts given to us by today’s most popular streaming services is a host of films that find their first — or most prominent — run via a list of recommendations on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. Eager for new content, these streaming giants have reached out to lesser known production studios and begun to snap up all their new releases, a move that has revitalized a once flagging industry.

Jean Reno in '22 Bullets'


As a result of those deals (and the fact that these films are made quick, and on the cheap), there’s always a bumper crop of fresh options from which to choose. Even better, because the expected return on investment in these films is so low, the studios tend to make more experimental fare to meet the demand for their product.

They Are Guilt-Free

The term “guilty pleasure” is used at will these days to disguise the joy we feel when loving a total piece of artistic garbage. Low budget action films are the exact opposite of that sensation, because you can’t feel guilty about either enjoying or hating something that you didn’t even pay for. In the streaming era, the stakes are so low when you’re picking a movie that if you’re not intrigued inside the first few minutes, you can always turn it off and pick something else.

John Cena in 'The Reunion'


Even better, should you happen upon a movie that’s actually good, you have the enviable position of having caught a diamond in a sea of flowing mediocrity. Good work!

Film Is a Collaborative Effort

Every film ever made is a conglomeration of several peoples’ tireless efforts and the execution of a lot of different visions. While certain jobs on the staff tend to get the most shine, most film is the result of a committee, not a singular vision. That’s a good thing for viewers, because it can make certain parts of a mediocre film extremely worthwhile.

Action films, in particular, are a potential showcase for a lot of different talents. Sure, the script may suck, but maybe the fight choreography is top notch. Okay, so the actors are miserable, but how much talent do you need when most of your part is silent and the cinematography is turning every frame into a work of art?

The Stars of Yesteryear!

Sure, he may be moderately relevant again in the wake of his turn as OJ Simpson in American Crime Story, but Cuba Gooding Jr hasn’t stopped acting since he was famous the first time. In between his stints of semi-fame, the actor has been paying the rent by starring in B-grade action movies. Even better, no one told Cuba that he wasn’t supposed to act his heart out in each in every one. Cuba didn’t magically stop being a charismatic actor, he just stopped getting a marketing budget.

Cuba Gooding Jr and Cole Hauser in 'The Hit List'


Cuba isn’t the only fading star to get in one or two of these straight-to-DVD roles. Bruce Willis, John Cusack, and even Robert De Niro have all cashed checks for similar roles. B-movies are filled with actors lending their considerable talents to material that some may view as beneath them. The effect, though, is the opposite. These actors have the ability to elevate the material they’re handed and turn it into something palatable, overcoming any small flaws.

Lower Budget Means More Story

Okay, I’ll admit that this aspect of low budget filmmaking can be a bit of a gamble. Since the writers and directors of low budget films can’t Michael Bay their way through two and a half hours of film, they’re forced to actually write compelling characters who say interesting shit. In truth, there are several B-movies that are only guilty of not having enough glitzy violence to satisfy a $35 million marketing budget.



Even when the story surrounding the violence is a little bit cliche or a little bit cheesy, the presence of proper context that goes beyond “because robots and BOOM” really makes the moments of action in a B-grade movie feel more earned, compelling, and interesting.

Expectations are Everything

Here’s the real key to enjoying yourself during Netflix, Hulu, or whoever’s “bottom rung” action films: lower your expectations a little bit. As wonderful as some of these films really are, there’s almost always some reason that they didn’t hit the big screen. A lot of the time those faults — like not having enough star power or not having enough explosions — are completely innocuous. Sometimes, they’re a bit more egregious.

If you’re able to appreciate the various bits and bobs that go into making a movie as much as you appreciate the sum total of the parts, though, a treasure trove of new content is waiting for you to absorb. If you’re willing to enjoy what’s good about a movie as opposed to enjoying whats not, then there really is a lot to love in the recesses of the Action Channel.

Patrick Wilson in 'Stretch'

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