'The Revenge of the Electric Car'

Chris Paine's "The Revenge of the Electric Car," lacks the corporate villains, government corruption and baroque conspiracies that galvanized his popular prior pic, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Chris Paine’s “The Revenge of the Electric Car” lacks the corporate villains, government corruption and baroque conspiracies that galvanized his popular prior pic, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Fueled only by genteel competition among an American automotive giant, a Japanese competitor, a maverick multimillionaire and a DIY mechanic, with CEOs as heroes and a Wall Street Journal reporter to comment, “Revenge” is a disappointment. Admittedly, the pic deploys the same kind of cinematic bells and whistles that made “Killed” so enjoyable. But without true tension, the docu feels as slickly manufactured as its va-va-voom subject.

Paine sets up four entries in the race to roll out viable electric cars. GM, which just five years earlier had rounded up its EV1s and smashed them to smithereens, comes back with the “Volt,” hedging its bets with a backup gasoline-powered engine. GM dynamo Bob Lutz, archvillain of Paine’s previous piece, here affably praises the electric car as energetically as he once dissed it, and proffers wry admissions of past errors and open access to his palatial estate.

Dot-com millionaire Elon Musk, the new kid on the block, has brainstormed the Tesla, named after the genius inventor who died in poverty (a fate many predict Musk will share). Fast, sexy, but priced at $100,000, his high-end all-electric sports car is riddled with production problems. Trying to keep his private space program aloft and his autos in production amid an economic meltdown, Musk constantly skirts bankruptcy.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, like Lutz, is a late arrival to the electric bandwagon, but jumps on with a vengeance, gambling the company’s fortunes on an affordable, mass-marketed all-electric vehicle called, greenly enough, the “Leaf.”

The final player in the mix is backyard tinkerer Greg “Gadget” Abbott, who converts gas-guzzlers into zero-emission cars. But his modest operation is plagued by disasters.

Paine has gained extraordinary access to the automotive industry’s movers and shakers, sitting in on Nissan’s secret strategy sessions and Tesla’s initial public offering. As in “Killed,” lenser Thaddeus Wadleigh’s eye for texture and composition, Chris Peterson’s jazzy editing style and dramatic music/image sync make for a seductive package. But under the aegis of can-do capitalism, the triumph of the electric car sometimes reads suspiciously like promotion.

The Revenge of the Electric Car


A WestMidWest production. Produced by Jessie Deeter, P.G. Morgan. Executive producer, Stefano Durdic. Directed by Chris Paine. Written by Paine, P.G. Morgan.


Camera (color, HD), Thaddeus Wadleigh; editor, Chris A. Peterson; music, David Robbins; music supervisor, Raul Campos; sound, Jayme Roy, Sean DeMers, Tyler Bender; supervising sound editor, Derek Vanderhorst; re-recording mixers, Skip Lievsay, Vanderhorst; associate producer, Roger G. Gilbertson. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Center, April 8, 2011. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Spotlight.) Running time: 90 MIN.


Bob Lutz, Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn, Greg Abbott, Dan Neil, Danny DeVito, Thomas Friedman. Narrator: Tim Robbins.

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