- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

The makers of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” treat their subject like a murder mystery but tiptoe around the prime suspect.

As the film would have it, the mid-‘90s electric car died thanks to uncooperative car companies, aggressive maneuvering by oil interests and twitchy politicians. But consumers likely deserve the brunt of the blame, and this “Car” lets them drive off without even a warning.

The story starts at the end, with a mock funeral held a few years back by environmentalists, including noted Hollywood greenie Ed Begley Jr.

They’re paying their last respects to the electric car, an idea that became reality in 1996. The cars in question ran quietly, boasted sleek designs and were free of the atmosphere-clogging emissions that some say aid and abet global warming. And they supposedly required fewer trips to the mechanic than their gas-guzzling cousins.

The electric car, or EV1 to its devotees, made believers out of actors Peter Horton (“Thirtysomething”), Alexandra Paul (“Baywatch”) and even Mel Gibson.

The vehicle’s sole drawback, the film says, is that it needed to be plugged back in after traveling 60 to 80 miles, a figure that was soon extended via Yankee ingenuity.

Yet the car companies that began making the EV weren’t committed for the long haul. Once the government lifted an order requiring that at least some of their cars be emissions-free, they distanced themselves from the product. Some even pulled the cars out of the owners’ driveways.

The EV fanatics profiled in the film tracked down every last car to see where they might be headed. The answer — to the junkyard — is disturbing, but watching the environmentalists tail the car companies makes for some seriously funny moments.

Martin Sheen’s reassuring tones guide us through “Car,” but by the hour mark the film feels as if it has said all that need be said on the subject. Way too much screen time is given to not just the actors espousing electric cars, but some regular folk who fell hard for them, too.

“Car” tries hard at times to be bipartisan, but the end result is far from neutral.

The Carter administration is lionized for its environmental efforts, and the Clinton gang gets a pass for relative inaction. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush get hit the hardest, the latter slammed for supporting an alternate fuel source (hydrogen cells) the filmmakers say is decades away from the assembly lines.

But where is the consumer in all this? Why did the electric car scare off Joe and Jane Sixpack? Was the public not persuaded of the environmental need for it, or were people simply so habituated to the status quo they never gave the electric car a chance?

The film could have been a primer on how the public won’t make sacrifices or isn’t easily sold on new products lacking an overwhelming advantage. Had the EV1 come out today amid turmoil in the Middle East and record high oil prices, the market might have responded more positively.

“Who Killed the Electric Car?” ends on an optimistic note, but there’s plenty of alarming information in its 90-plus minutes to temper any enthusiasm for the automobile industry — or a culture that let such a product wither and die.

***

TITLE: “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

RATING: PG (brief mild language)

CREDITS: Directed by Chris Paine. Edited by Michael Kovalenko and Chris A. Peterson. Narrated by Martin Sheen.

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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