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Take Two 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Who Killed the Electric Car? & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his is going to sound novel to anyone who didn't live in California in the last decade and a half, but there was a concerted effort to have 10 percent of the cars sold in that state run solely on electricity (called zero emissions vehicles or ZEVs) by 2003. This didn't happen, of course, and Who Killed the Electric Car? goes about sniffing out a perpetrator.

Things started fine, with a 1990 mandate by the California Air Resources Bureau (CARB) calling for a 2 percent ZEV rate by 1998. As that date approached, though, car companies whined about lack of demand, and CARB balked. In 2000, they killed the mandate altogether, which, in turn, killed the electric car.

So was CARB the culprit? Or was it Big Oil? Or Big Oil in conjunction with apathetic Democrats and oil-bloated Republicans? Or profit-mad car companies? Or was it the nascent technology itself? Given the facts presented, all of these seem possible (though the filmmakers make a weak argument that the technology was perfectly mature and thus innocent).

Then there's the film's undertone of pervasive, consumeristic eco-apathy, which -- when viewed from a town like Spokane -- is especially tough to argue against. Of some 5,000 potential lessees for Saturn's EV1, only 50 turned out to be takers once GM suits let them in on all the shortcomings of the car. The filmmakers take umbrage with this business model, and with the car's supposed shortcomings, chief among which is its 80-mile range. These are only shortcomings, they say, in the kind of culture that wants, at any moment, to drive thousands of miles when the whim hits. The kind of culture, they lament, where the EV1 is allowed to die while the Hummer thrives ...

It occurred to me as I wrote that last sentence that I ended my last eco-doc review (of An Inconvenient Truth) by caterwauling against that same SUV mentality. This review and that are essentially interchangeable in that regard. Same topic, same tropes, same problems, same heroes, same villains, same essential reaction from yours truly. It's odd how we savage horror flicks and teen films (Step Up, I'm looking at you) for being formulaic when films like this and Truth beat the same damn drum minute after minute, hour after hour. That's not to imply that these films are somehow wrong -- the point is that they're right, have been right, and continue to be right.

Yet nothing changes.

It leaves you (me, us) wondering why we should criticize formula in art when -- if art imitates life and we are ourselves living a formulaic existence -- multiplex drivel is more potently capturing the average American existence, on a day-to-day level, than whatever arthouse fare has the Sundance set moist. The fact is, the last 30 years have been a reinforcing loop, a formula for short-sighted comfort. We see what's good in the world, we see how the good is fading, and we opt for ease. We squander our gift of foresight, trading a comfortable present for a ... blah, blah ... I'm pretty sure I said this in the Inconvenient Truth piece, too. If this review or these films are starting to sound like broken records, that's because they are.

These filmmakers have pointed out -- repeatedly -- that these are multifaceted problems that require multilateral solutions, which means the most they can hope for is that, after countless shrill iterations of this eco-documentary paradigm, a critical mass of us conspicuous consumers will not only realize the record's broken, but care enough about the problem to actually do something about it.

The film closes tonight, see it before it dies, much like the ZEV.

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