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Who Killed the Electric Car?

(2006) *** Pg
92 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Directors: Chris Paine, Chris Paine (II). Cast: Martin Sheen, Dave Barthmuss, Jim Boyd (II), Alec N. Brooks, Alan Cocconi.

Wrapped in an air of mystery, Chris Paine's cogent doc Who Killed the Electric Car? investigates how the spark of innovation was recharged in the last twenty years, then buried alive. Suspects include the oil and car companies, the California Air Resources Board, the federal government, and American consumers.

According to author Joseph J. Romm (The Hype About Hydrogen), the oil companies "opposed the creation of an electric infrastucture." General Motors squelched its own EV1 product, claiming lack of consumer interest, then repossessed every last car from devoted leasers who pleaded to buy them.

A majority of American consumers remained largely ignorant, underinformed, and skittish about the electric car (to be fair to consumers, the initial offering did present legitimate mileage-range concerns). Still, the car companies themselves deserve much of the credit for instilling consumer doubt, by trumpeting perceived flaws to those already sold on the product.

Paine rounds up an intriguing group of notables to comment on the electric car, including former Carter lieutenant S. David Freeman (who points his finger squarely at GM), Mel Gibson (a conservative nevertheless sold on the technology), Tom Hanks (by way of Late Show with David Letterman footage), Ed Begley, Jr. (natch), and Ralph Nader (noteable activist Martin Sheen narrates).

Paine also locates a hero in Chelsea Sexton, the EV1 specialist formerly of General Motors and now with Plug in America; we watch sadly as Sexton painfully but tirelessly defends the electric car. In taking us from the Hollywood Forever Cemetary to wrecking yards to an auto museum in search of the victim, Paine amasses evidence—including dissenting voices—that's consistently illuminating.

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