'77 Minutes' is a gritty immersion into grim criminal territory

The 1984 massacre at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif., in which a gunman killed 21 people and wounded 19 others, is revisited in the tough and emotional, if slightly overlong, documentary “77 Minutes.” 

Although this horrific event, then the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, may seem a bit like yesterday’s news, there’s a chilling timeliness to the shooter’s purported anti-immigrant sentiments that, some think, may have fueled his attack. (San Ysidro sits just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.)

But director Charlie Minn purposely avoids much talk of the gunman or his motives, unwilling to even mention him by name (it was James Oliver Huberty). He focuses instead on the shooting’s victims, survivors and attendant law enforcers, using a mix of wrenching recent interviews, archival news footage and actual crime scene video.  

That the carnage lasted 77 minutes until the gunman was killed by a SWAT team member rankled the victims’ families as well as, it seems, Minn, who comes off more as blunt investigative reporter than strict documentarian as he grills former SWAT commander Jerry Sanders (later San Diego’s chief of police and two-time mayor) about mistakes that may have prolonged the rampage.

Like the prolific Minn’s other disturbing docs, “8 Murders a Day” and “A Nightmare in Las Cruces,” this is a gritty, no frills, at times sensationalistic immersion into grim criminal territory.

‘77 Minutes’

MPAA Rating: Not rated.

In English and Spanish with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: Dec. 6: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Dec. 7: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Dec, 8: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Dec. 9-15: Harkins Cerritos 16, Cerritos.

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