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Electric Cars: Highway to Heaven?

July 20, 2006 By:
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Driving Miss Guided? "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is a gas.

But who knew that this movie murder mystery with moxie could mischievously produce such road rage and fuming fans?

Which is exactly what has happened since "Car" opened, creating a current concern over how the gas guzzlers -- those in the oil industry -- have given the shaft to ecology and ethics, as the all-electric car, the EV1, has been pulled off the road.

A "my way or the highway" for the new millennium, Chris Pain's painfully comedic "Car" is as animated as a nightmare working its own magic -- those little shops of horror called gas stations, where drivers are getting their fill of angst and anger this summer.

But the supply and source for a successful electric car -- running on a charge card of $3 for a full tank -- has been tested, and the graded curves truckers fear so much are even more gruesome for those who want to keep America tethered to the toxic tailpipes of fumes from fossil fuels.

Audiences, start your engines -- at $60 a tank? Don't get them started! Which is exactly why Paine, an Internet entrepreneur before logging on to film full-time, started on this movie, pulling into area Ritz theaters this Friday.

"The technology has been here for a long time," says the director of the car he himself road-tested in 1997, a GM EV1 that "was fast, quiet, ran without exhaust and meant I never had to go to the gas station."

Not exactly info to put the sun in Sunoco's day. But, almost as easily as the EV1 eased into traffic, it was pushed off to the side, its highway to heaven getting a hit. Octane and ecology -- the ultimate oxymoron. But oxygen and smarts? The future!

"We are at a tipping point," tips off Paine about the ill effects of global warming, warning that people can see green now -- or red later on.

"Anger is one way to incite," he says of his film putting fire in the belly of those exhausted with exhaust problems plaguing the world.

He's in good company, conceding that former veep Al Gore's concurrently showing documentary on "An Inconvenient Truth" couldn't come at a more convenient time.

One-two punch of piston-packin' filmmakers: "Showing documentaries that are entertaining is a great way" to showcase real problems, he says. "We're all in this together."

Also putting pedal to the metal and proving the mettle of the project is Chelsea Sexton, a former EV1 sales specialist now executive director of Plug In America, advocates for hybrids and electric cars.

"When we first started the GM campaign," says the movie "co-star," "the Jewish coalition was the first to jump on board in Los Angeles.

"They know that green is good and fought for it. They understood that it is the overarching method of protecting God's creation."

Hip isn't only for the hippies: This electric-car business is not the charge of erstwhile "Hair" die-hards, she says of a movement admittedly "first seen as led by crunchy, granola people."

Let the sun shine in -- it's now viewed as a mainstream movement "that is so normal."

Do card-carrying electric-car advocates stand a prayer of seeing their vans go off again onto that long and winding road? Maybe if the government listened to a higher authority ...

In the beginning, a scene in the film depicts the electric car, mourned by movers and shakers of Hollywood, being given a burial.

You can trust your car to the man who wears the "Star": Conducting the service is a rabbi going along for the ride. Notes the director: "He said it's the first service he ever did for an electric car. He also said he couldn't find anything specific in the [siddur] for electric-cars funerals, but ... social change is all part of the Jewish faith."

So, where was the shivah? Everywhere, laments the director of Americans forced off the road by the usual suspects: gas companies, politicians with axles to grind and drivers whose egos get mileage out of owning an SUV.

Gas 'n' gone? Hardly, but there is hope.

"Because gas is so high now, people have become more aware [of conserving]," contends Paine.

With Gore, second to none, traversing the same green green grass of home, "hopefully, we can pull a one-two punch with his movie."

It's not politics as unusual; indeed, stresses the director, mourning becomes electric for everyone.

"My parents were Republican environmentalists," points out Paine of the nonsectarian sense it takes to be environmentally educated.

And Sexton's co-stars in the film are an eclectic electric group. Among those on screen is Mel Gibson. The passion of the Chrysler? No, he's an avid EV1 fan, too.

With a trunkful of fans, the EV1 has nevertheless been eviscerated. The juice has run dry at electric "pumping" stations alongside California highways, where "Charge!" had more impact than a day at Bloomingdale's.

Is there any hope for the nation to plug in once more? "There is faith in having hope," says Paine.

Sure, the hybrids -- part-gas, part-electric -- may be the mutants of the millennium for now. But the true X-Men are those who ask "Why?" driven by concern for the environment.

Paine and EV1 fans are no crash dummies, even if they're still hitting their heads against the bureaucratic wall these days. Optimism still fuels Paine's hopes in the land of the fast and the furious.

But sometimes ya just need a drive through the country to clear your head. Which may be why Paine's next project is a comedy.

And what's it about?

"The end of the world," he promises. 

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