Flamin’ Hot’s marketing describes the movie as “The flavor you know, the story you don’t.” The slogan is a simple tease to what might be the inspiring story of a simple custodial worker who garnered success by inventing the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto.
As a disclaimer, the LA Times reported this to be untrue, stating Richard Montañez did not invent the iconic chip that is both spicy and addicting.
The report indicates that an employee named Lynne Greenfeld brought the iconic brand to life and gave it the name.
With that aside, a movie has been made, actors gave performances, and the filmmakers deserve to have their film judged on its terms.
Flamin’ Hot continues a trend of product-based films such as Tetris and Air.
Ben Affleck’s Air, the movie was all about branding; Blackberry is a movie centered around the business theme of management; Flamin’ Hot is about product innovation. And while Flamin’ Hot may not accurately represent the truth, it does contain a wildly charming lead performance by Jesse Garcia.
A spicy rise to fame
Directed by Eva Longoria, Flamin Hot centers on Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), an ex-convict and gang member seeking a better life for himself and his wife, Judy.
The writing moves swiftly, setting up everything we need to know about Montañez. He’s not very educated, possesses little job experience, and his record does nothing to help him find work to support his wife and kids. However, everyone on the street claims Montañez sells products well. And his disarming and friendly demeanor is evidence of this.
After almost succumbing to returning to a life of crime, Montañez manages to get a job at Frito-Lay as a janitor.
From here, his ambition becomes hilarious as he runs around trying to learn how everything works, including annoying a machine manager named Clarence (played by the iconic Allstate Insurance actor Dennis Haysbert).
The film then focuses on the backdrop of the economic setbacks around the Reagan and Bush Sr. years. Factories began to struggle, including various ones owned by Frito-Lay. Montañez gets inspired to find a way to make his factory relevant by introducing spice into Frito-Lay’s life– according to the film, not in reality.
The performers are all-around great in the film. Longoria could have gone with a Hollywood-ish leading man and made it Antonio Banderas. But Jesse Garcia is an unconventional leading man and exudes a lovable charm as Montañez. Annie Gonzalez is a tremendous presence as Judy Montañez. Her performance is sincere, loving, and she stands out strong for sharing the screen with so much talent.
There are other friendly faces here, such as Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest, Monk) as Roger Enrico, the CEO of Pepsi/Frito-Lay. Here, Shalhoub brings a fatherly presence to the CEO, almost like he is channeling Walt Disney for the snack industry.
Matt Walsh is always a great character actor. Here, he brings the same dry insulting comedic tone that Walsh nails perfectly—a persona that serves well for playing a factory floor manager.
Despite the dishonesty surrounding the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the film has a heart (a misguided one, but it’s there). We often forget how fickle jobs are for factory workers, and stories with similarities often go untold. Flamin’ Hot has a heart for the little guy and often tries to focus on the redemption of this small unknown factory than Montañez himself.
Additionally, there are nuggets of truth inside the film. Montañez was a janitor and did build himself up to become a marketing person for the company. It’s proof that the most minor jobs could lead to the greatest fortunes for anyone.
A well-made but irresponsible snack
Longoria’s direction is surprisingly confident. The former Desperate Housewives star injects a lot of culture into the film, and she gives the film a lot of humorous energy. It’s rare to see a movie made with endearment for Hispanic life, music, and performers. Flamin’ Hot feels very representative in that manner.
And as much as this writer loved the characters, writing, and direction, it has to be said that making this film feels irresponsible. Before deciding to do the review, this writer’s knowledge was limited to the facts about this story. After researching, it’s undoubtedly disheartening. Is Flamin’ Hot a fun and well-made movie? If viewers hold their noses and dive in without reading the truth about Richard Montañez, then it’s a great time. Knowing might leave a spicy aftertaste.
Flamin’ Hot is now streaming on Hulu.