So maybe it’s not up there with “Who killed JFK?” or even “Who shot J.R.?” But the ramifications of General Motors’ hasty retreat from its own 1997 introduction of the sleek EV-1 (total fuel consumption: zero) can be felt with each $50 tank of gas. Naturally, the less-than-simple answer to the title question is “competing interests”: oil-industry fat cats, the feds in their pockets and nascent hydrogen-cell companies, whose technology is still years away.
Documentarian Chris Paine presents all this information—hardly the stuff of conspiracy, but a matter of record—with the conviction of an obvious supporter. (He’s also roped in Martin Sheen to narrate, but the masterful pauses behind Apocalypse Now are nowhere to be heard.) Alas, much like Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, Paine resorts to the occasional sentimental tactic, including a ridiculous Hollywood funeral for the forlorn car, which nearly wrecks the film in its first minutes. The material here is valid enough, with celebrity owners such as Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks adding star-wattage to the sense of betrayal. While the need for speed will never vacate American tastes (just look at the current box-office smash Cars), it sure can be supplied more cleanly. (Now playing; click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf