Listen to this review!
I went into the theater not knowing RED is loosely based on a three-issue comic book series published in 2003 and 2004. The trailers showing Helen Mirren blasting away with rifles and handguns were enough to get me there. Character development and careful plotting are not the film’s strong suit; the script simply gives a collection of older stars an opportunity to participate in an action comedy.
Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired and extremely dangerous, or RED, CIA agent living in a quiet Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood. His main human contact is phone conversations with a woman issuing his government pension checks (played by Mary-Louise Parker). Frank survives an attack on his home, then is pursued across the country by agents trying to finish the job. Along the way, he is joined by old comrades-at-arms played by Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. New agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) attempts to catch Moses, but doesn’t have much luck.
So, what does this action comedy offer a science teacher? Well, the screenwriters seem to be fans of the Discovery Channel's MythBusters series: They use several MythBusters–tested phenomena in the film. In one early scene, Moses creates a diversion by putting a handful of 9 mm cartridges in a frying pan on the stove and turning on the heat. A few minutes later, they explode, leading the assassins outside to think a firefight is going on in the house. MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman investigated the potential danger of cartridges exploding when exposed to heat. Rather than heating the ammunition in a frying pan, though, they baked it in an oven to see if the bullets would explode through the oven’s glass door. Starting with a small .22 caliber bullet, all the results were negative. Even a .50 caliber bullet did not get out, though it made quite a bang. When a cartridge explodes, momentum is conserved: The casing and the bullet go in opposite directions at about the same speed (they have the same momentum, so if their masses are the nearly the same, their speeds will be as well). When a cartridge is set off in a gun, momentum is conserved by the much lighter bullet being propelled rapidly down the barrel of the more massive gun.
The stars align in the movie RED.
In a chase sequence, Cooper jumps onto the back of a moving limousine and holds on as the driver is told to shake him off. The driver makes a sudden sharp turn, sending Cooper flying off the car and into the street. MythBusters tried this action film staple, and found it really is difficult to hold on to a moving car if the driver tries to throw you off. The physics concept here is inertia. When you are moving with the car in a certain direction at a given speed, you will keep that speed and direction unless a force acts on you to change your motion. If the car slows suddenly, or turns out from under you, you will keep moving in the direction you were going, unless you can hold on, which will provide the force to change your velocity along with the car.
Note: RED is rated PG-13 for action violence and brief strong language.
Jacob Clark Blickenstaff is Assistant Professor of Physics and Assistant Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Southern Mississippi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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