'Flamin' Hot' review: Origin about spicy Cheetos is more fiction than fact
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
It’s easy to see why Eva Longoria decided to make “Flamin’ Hot” her directorial debut. Packed with a good heart, sentimental value, and an endearing rags-to-riches narrative that champions Hispanic heritage, the story of how Frito Lay janitor Richard Montañez, who claims to have created the iconic Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, is as close to a sure thing as you can get. Except a simple Google search will tell you Richard Montañez didn’t actually come up with the idea and the book of which the movie is based has already been debunked. So where does that leave “Flamin’ Hot,” which by all accounts is a well-intentioned, competently made film that, despite the fabrications, delivers a somber message about pursuing your dreams and ambitions in the face of adversity? The answer is somewhere in the middle.
What is true, regarding Montañez’ rise through the Frito Lay corporation, is how his initiative helped usher in a marketing renaissance and cultivated new, previously unheard of, snacking methods. He busted through a glass ceiling and that itself is commendable and worthy of the cinematic treatment, and writers Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chavez capture that spirit despite the movie bordering on fantasy rather than legitimacy. The film also joins a recent trend in cinema of films about brands (see “Air,” “Blackberry,” and “Tetris) that teeter on self-indulging.
Jesse Garcia plays Montañez with a power-hungry, every-man attitude. When we first meet him, he’s in between jobs and struggling to make ends meet for his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) and two children. He catches a break when he’s hired in the Frito Lay maintenance department, where he takes every advantage to pick the brains of the plant technicians, including Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), so that maybe one day he can move up the corporate food chain. But it’s during the Regan-era recessions that saw mass unemployment and cutbacks in the mid-80s where Richard finds the inspiration to create a snack for an underrepresented population. As the movie showcases (or more likely dramatized), he even picks up the phone and calls Frito Lay CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) to set up a pitch meeting.
Richard is an easy guy to root for: a family man with nothing to lose, who as the film’s primary narrator injects his own flavor and recollections of how certain events transpired “The Big Short” style. Although, knowing what we know about the likelihood Richard did not invent the best-selling snack, it renders some of these creative decisions mute. The best way to look at “Flamin’ Hot” is through the lens that every worker deserves dignity, and respect. These are basic principles we should already practice and I’m willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt on the charm and goodwill of that manta alone. Not to mention the way Longoria views a major corporation under the guise of an underdog keeps it from being completely superficial.
FLAMIN’ HOT debuts on Disney+ and Hulu Friday, June 9th.