Flamin’ Hot, 2023.
Directed by Eva Longoria.
Starring Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Matt Walsh, Tony Shalhoub, Bobby Soto, Pepe Serna, Emilio Rivera, Vanessa Martinez, Jimmy Gonzales, Eric Marq, Fabian Alomar, and Hunter Jones.
Flamin’ Hot is the story of Richard Montañez, the Frito Lay janitor who channeled his Mexican American heritage and upbringing to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a snack that disrupted the food industry and became a global phenomenon.
A movie about the titular popular Frito-Lay spicy Cheetos snack sounds satiating on paper for several reasons; practically everyone has at least tried to eat one of them, a biopic about a snack inventor sounds refreshing given the typical subjects of the genre, and there is an inspiring story detailing the proverbial American Dream for Mexican-American family man Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia, straining to be charismatic and charming, struggling due to a rough script with awkward jokes and forced drama) who uses his Frito-Lay factory maintenance job as an environment to pursue greater ambitions that will better provide for his family if they come to fruition. In theory, Flamin’ Hot should be eaten up, but the execution results in such a generic rags-to-riches make-your-own destiny narrative that it comes across as anything but spicy storytelling.
There’s no denying that a story about a Mexican-American man working his ass off for 10+ years at a Frito-Lay factory during the 1980s-1990s when workplace racism was far more casual (the entire infrastructure is set up like a high school lunchroom, with wealthy white men seated together and minorities typically at the lowest rung of this class system) and had fewer opportunities to climb the ladder to a more well-paying company position, is a potentially insightful story to tell with intrigue baked inside considering what he created and, more importantly, how his eye for diversity, multicultural marketing, and sheer boldness despite lacking education made his idea possible.
Director Eva Longoria (with a script from Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette and based on Richard Montañez’s memoir A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie: from Janitor to Executive) ops for a traditional biopic narrative structure complete with an abundance of narration, beginning by giving a crash course on Richard Montañez’s childhood farm home consisting of intense labor and physical abuse at the hands of his father Vacho (Emilio Rivera). He’s an outcast at school due to his Mexican heritage but befriends Judy (Annie Gonzalez), who is similarly ostracized. There’s also a first look at his street-smart intelligence, where he tricks bullies into eating a burrito where they, unsurprisingly, realize it tastes delicious.
Flashing forward to Richard as an adult, he has become a low-level, mostly harmless gangster, with his narration insisting that the story is not falling into stereotype trappings because this happened. Naturally, he wants to provide for Judy and his children more honorably, hence the Frito-Lay job he obtains with his wife’s help, as he cannot understand what some of the form’s terms mean.
This is not a film taking itself too seriously, but there is an upbeat comedic tone that doesn’t do Jesse Garcia favors. His performance is much more natural and engaging when he is more dramatic, such as when he goes above rank, pitching his snack idea directly to PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) or second-guessing himself due to setbacks or his lack of education.
There are also compelling scenes with a fellow Black coworker (Dennis Haysbert) who has achieved a decent position at the factory, with Richard latching on to him for advice and support on how to impress and elevate his position. It also takes 45 minutes to get there, but the combining of spices and taste testing for the new brand of snack is an amusing aspect that does work, and one wishes that Flamin’ Hot focused more on the creation itself rather than functioning as a standard time jumping biopic ticking off various events. Everything else feels more like forced questionable history where the challenge is not necessarily felt, which could be a side effect of technically being an untrue true story (whatever that means).
The drama is sanitized, the story often feels corny instead of rousing and moving, and as much as I hate to say it, Richard Montañez is a flat and bland character, and it’s easy to imagine the specifics of his life and journey being more interesting than this. Jesse Garcia is fine enough portraying him despite some minor reservations, but Eva Longoria has crafted a basic and listless narrative that doesn’t cut to the core of what made the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos so remarkable not just as a game-changing snack but for Richard’s trailblazing within the Frito-Lay Corporation. The material is stale and doesn’t match Richard’s ambition.
Flamin’ Hot is nowhere near as rancid as its Mountain Dew-flavored drink that the filmmakers actually have the gall to promote during the ending credits, but not as savory and tasty as the Cheetos themselves. It’s more like a crumpled-up bag where half of the chips are broken, and you got shortchanged on the amount inside.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com