Chris Paine's murder non-mystery Who Killed the Electric Car? begins, appropriately enough, with a funeral. A bunch of people in black are at an actual cemetery, with fresh flowers all around, saying their final goodbyes to the electric vehicle (EV), which was done in by a perfect storm of dark forces that are thoroughly outed later in the documentary. Among those delivering eulogies are former EV-driving Hollywood celebrities Peter Horton, Alexandra Paul and Ed Begley Jr., who can now expect to have Matt Stone and Trey Parker blow up their puppet likenesses in ever more sadistic ways in the Team America sequel.
Speaking of hilarious, Begley peels off the funniest line in the smart and infuriating Cars when he admits EVs would not have suited all drivers, "only 90 percent of them."
Actually, the funniest moment was when Huell Howser, taping a PBS California Connected segment at a yard that shreds old jalopies for recycling, happened upon a row of nearly new cars that, unbeknownced to the host, were EVs. As the camera panned over to the cars, and Howser is heard asking why on earth these are being crushed, the flummoxed tour guide sputters, "Uh . . . I've only worked her eight years . . ."—like working in one place for eight years makes you oblivious to your job site's goings on. Check back on my silver anniversary, Huell, and maybe I'll know why we're pulverizing perfectly fine automobiles into metal and rubber corn flakes.
No, no: the no-doubt-about-it, most-laugh-out-loud moments come when Big Auto and Big Oil spokesmen look into the camera and verbally pooh-pooh the EV program as their noses seemingly grow so long they're poking Paine's lens.
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But the writer/director (interviewed here) does not rely solely on celebs, aw-shucks TV reporters and bald-faced corporate liars to make his compelling case: that oil companies, automakers, lawmakers, consumers and the media killed a workable solution to air pollution, global warming, soaring gas prices, dwindling oil reserves and international terrorism. He uses the public record, insider information and damning internal documents—like the one from several years back in which the oil companies essentially laid out a plan to kill electric cars because they were getting too popular.
Especially loving those cars were—you guessed it—the Hollywood elite, whose top draws Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson were enthusiastically spreading the EV gospel. But what no doubt made Car electrify Sundance audiences was the testimony Paine collected from your average, non-celeb EV drivers, including Seal Beach activist Doug Korthof (whose story the Weekly shared in "Dude, Where's My Electric Car?" May 8, 2003). These EV cheerleaders boast their cars ran better, cleaner, smoother and more economical than anything else on the road now and—if hydrogen cars ever come to be (a big if)—for at least the next couple of decades.
If you like being the first person on your block to see first-run movies, join the Orange County Film Society, whose members will attend the local premiere of Who Killed the Electric Car? three days before it hits theaters. They'll also get to see in person a prototype plug-in hybrid Prius that turns up in the film, and Greg Hanssen of EnergyCS, which developed the car, will answer their questions. Screenings like this are among the benefits given to Film Society members, who throughout the year get treated to sneak previews, special events and early Newport Beach Film Festival passes.
WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? WAS DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY CHRIS PAINE; AND PRODUCED BY JESSIE DEETER. AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.