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‘Flamin’ Hot’ Review: Not much spice, just empty calories

By June 13, 2023No Comments4 min read
A photo still of Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, and Hunter Jones standing in front of a car in FLAMIN’ HOT.

Eva Longoria’s directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot, takes a supposedly true story and turns it into, well, junk food.

For decades, the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto has left its dusty, red mark as a staple snack food. The chip helped kickstart the trend of adding a little kick to snack products and thus inspired a whole culinary genre. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos have made their way onto popcorn, mac n’ cheese, and even desserts, but how did this little spicy delight first make it to shelves? Among this year’s recent slew of corporate biopicsFlamin’ Hot is the latest to tackle the creation of a universally loved product, but it’s oddly lacking flavor.

Directed by Eva Longoria in her feature debut, Flamin’ Hot is about real-life Richard Montañez’s rise from a janitor at the Frito-Lay factory to the creator of the famous chip. It’s a classic “bootstraps tale” based on Montañez’s memoir, A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive. And on paper it at least sounds like the perfect recipe for a feel-good biopic.

The film begins with Richard growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and eventually turning to a life of crime with his wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez). But after Judy gets pregnant, they throw that life away in order to focus on starting a family. After getting a job at Frito-Lay, Richard’s curiosity about the inner workings of the factory catches the eye of Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), an engineer who faces his own issues of discrimination from the white higher-ups. After a recession threatens the future of the factory, Richard and his family work together to create an iteration of a chip inspired by his culture’s flavors. 

Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones standing around a table in FLAMIN’ HOT.

“I’m the guy who helped bring the world the most popular snack it’s ever seen.”

Flamin’ Hot uses humor and unreliable narration as its structure, and it’s a good thing it leans fully into this style because there wouldn’t be much of a movie without it. The film is little more than a Wikipedia page entry, complete with a script chock full of biopic cliches ranging from motivational speeches to montages of everyone putting aside their differences (racist differences, I might add) to work together.

Even without the tropes, the plot lacks depth, with hardly any stakes or obstacles for Richard to overcome. He can just contact the CEO and tell him about his idea without getting hung up on. And he can simply steal products to give out for free under the guise of “marketing purposes” without facing the consequences. What’s intended to be inspirational comes off as eye-rolling and a little cringy. 

Flamin’ Hot comes to life when it focuses on Richard and Judy. Garcia and Gonzalez have great chemistry on screen and show genuine warmth toward each other. Whether it’s standing up against Richard’s abusive father or buying every pepper in town for the Flamin’ Hot recipe, Judy’s support for her family never falters. 

Last year, the LA Times released an investigative piece that suggests the family’s tale may be a farce. According to internal Frito-Lay accounts and multiple employee statements, Richard was not directly involved with creating the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. He may have been responsible for marketing to the Hispanic community (which is a triumph in itself), but the claim is that the actual development happened with another team. The film doesn’t do much to address this except to add a tidbit about groups already trying to make spicy products in test tubes. Aside from that, the film takes Richard at his word.

The bottom line.

It’s easy to see the love Longoria has for the material. She’s has always been a massive advocate for the Latinx community through her foundation and philanthropy, so a story about a Mexican American man defying all odds and rising to the top should’ve been perfect for her film debut. But maybe next time, she can find an inspiring figure with a little more truth in the bag.

Flamin’ Hot is now available to stream on Hulu and Disney+. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. Find more articles by Yasmin Kleinbart here.

  • FLAMIN' HOT - 4/10
Yasmin Kleinbart

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