- Movie Rating -

Flamin’ Hot (2023)

| June 12, 2023

Ever since Everything, Everywhere All At Once won the Oscar for Best Picture, I’ve been begging for more original content – more films that aren’t sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes,  reimaginings, or another universe-building collection of cacophonous hoo-ha.  I can’t call Flamin’ Hot – the story of the guy who invented Flaming Hot Cheetos – the most original story in the world, but for the cause of something different, I guess it’ll do.

Eva Longoria’s directorial-debut is a film that I’ve been hearing about since before COVID and now here it is, a delightfully entertaining movie that redefines the words ‘corny’ and ‘hokey’ but does it in a very nice, family-friendly way.  This, I expected, since it has found a home on Disney+ and Hulu, but – and you may think I’m crazy – but I consider it invaluable.  This is, of course, the story of Richard Montañez, a Mexican-American maintenance worker who, in 1992, went to the top executives of Pepsico, the parent company of Frito-Lay, with the idea that eventually became Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  This story, like two earlier films this year Air and Blackberry, reaffirms the idea of the American dream, of a little guy succeeding beyond all expectations.  Such inspiring stories are essential right now in an America that is increasingly losing it’s faith.

Yes, the movie is cornball, but cornball doesn’t necessarily mean bad.  Flamin’ Hot is sometimes a drama and sometimes a comedy that Disney-fies Montañez’s story into the formula of a sports movie about a come-from-behind potential loser who gets a lucky break and succeeds on pluck, determination and a vision that never leaves him. 

In the Disney-sense it wants to be a portrait of a Mexican-American family and their community and the poverty and racism that they face.  That’s refreshing.  Yes, there’s a white savior here in the form Pepsico CEO Roger Enrico (played with a near-angelic glow by Tony Shaloub) who takes Richard’s ideas seriously despite the cartoonish objections of his immediate underlings.  But you don’t mind.  Disney has always had a history of revising history to fit it’s particular brand, and I might object if the movie weren’t so darned entertaining.

Based on Montañez’s 2013 book “A Boy, A Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive”, The film stars Jesse Garcia who plays Montañez with an infectious comical charm that might have been at home in a Jimmy Stewart movie.  In the 70s, we learn, Montañez was a kid with a rough background, running with gangs and selling drugs and coming home to a father who beat him senseless.  What saves him is the stubborn devotion of his lifetime love Judy (played wonderfully by Annie Gonzalaz) who eventually gets pregnant and forces him to change his priorities.  Looking for a way – any way – to feed his growing family, he lands a bottom-level position at Frito-Lay’s Rancho Cucamonga plant where he disarms his superiors with his eager curiosity about how the machines at the plant work.

The climb to the top is told through narration as Montañez often remembers things casually, or exaggerates them and then corrects himself.  His stature at the plant impresses some of those who sign his paycheck and frustrates others in his immediate hemisphere.  Among the latter, initially, is the veteran the plant engineer Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert) who eventually becomes his mentor.

Then an idea strikes.  Watching all those Cheetos, Fritos and Doritos come off the line in their yellowish glory, he is struck by the idea that Mexican people like spicy and why not a spicy Cheeto?  Why not market to the taste of his Latin community?  That’s part of the special charm of this film.  This is a story about a Mexican-American man in his community where pride and unity and heritage are something that are to be celebrated.  It sounds naïve, but surprisingly it works.  The movie has a nice pace, an infectious narrative and isn’t afraid to delve into comedy, particularly when Richard imagines flashbacks of the white executives speaking to each other in Mexican street slang.  Hey!  It worked in Ant-Man!

Flamin’ Hot is not a great movie.  There’s a kid-charm about it, but we know that the factual history here is in dispute.  We know that a much more grown-up story of Richard and Judy is still to be made.  But this is a charming film, an engaging film about one starry-eyed dreamer who rose to the top.  If it seems overly cheesey, hey!, it’s about a guy who reimagined Cheetos!

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama