‘Flamin’ Hot’ review: Eva Longoria’s portrait of a snack food maker
SXSW: The story of snack food and marketing genius Richard Montañez is pretty tasty, but hardly a meal.
Taking liberties out of the way: The subject of Eva Longoria’s narrative directorial debut (she directed the doc “La Guerra Civil”) is businessman and entrepreneur Richard Montañez. He lived an extraordinary life, during which he rose from a childhood spent in a migrant labor camp to the head of PepsiCo and a sought-after motivational speaker. However, he didn’t actually invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. So yeah, it’s unfortunate that Longoria’s energetic and loving streak is just about Richard Montañez inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
It’s an inspiring story that Montañez has been telling for years – he even wrote a book about it – and which has now received the apt biographical treatment of Flamin’ Hot. But every biopic comes with scrutiny, and in May 2021 the The Los Angeles Times published an exposé that Montañez had not actually done the one thing he had long said he had done. Longoria’s film, written by Linda Yvette Chávez and Lewis Colick, tells the origin story of Montañez’s Flamin’ Hot, along with a bunch of other lightly polished truths. It’s pretty fun, but it’s a story that doesn’t feel real, mostly because it isn’t.
Perhaps that’s why Longoria’s film often falls into the expected tropes of an inspirational biopic (inspirational speeches set on a factory floor, lights humming in the family home when money is tight) and relies on mostly ill-conceived fantasy sequences to lift the film. proceedings. The good stuff about “Flamin’ Hot,” including star Jesse Garcia, its commitment to uplifting the Mexican-American community, and its compulsively watchable junk food-making sequences (Seriously) is really very good. Longoria has an eye and a heart for crowd-pleasing filmmaking.
Longoria’s Montañez is a tough, hard worker who is proud of his heritage and eager to make a name for himself while being realistic about some of his weaknesses. We follow Richard in his younger years as Garcia’s energy and charisma almost forget that the 40-year-old actor is playing a much younger man – as he and his old love Judy (a delightful Annie Gonzalez) try to make a life together. Richard’s early attempts at drug dealing are discussed and glossed over, portraying him as a smart guy who needs a break. Sometimes he gets them — like when a judge won’t lock him up for his latest charge — but just as often, things get tough again.
When Judy becomes pregnant, Richard knows he has to step up. But it’s not that simple — a fact of life that Longoria’s film embraces — and finding a good job without a criminal record and high school diploma is its own occupation. Eventually, Richard lands a job as a janitor at Frito-Lay and vows to excel. He has been doing this for almost a decade. (Another fact-checking break: “Flamin’ Hot” spawns a major subplot of Frito-Lay’s opposition to Richard’s promotion, the real Richard allegedly being promoted in his first year at the Rancho Cucamonga location.)
Richard wants to be the best he can be. In the world of “Flamin’ Hot,” that doesn’t just mean kicking ass as a janitor, but seeking mentorship from engineer Clarence (Dennis Haysbert). But is hard work enough? As Richard faces all kinds of roadblocks, from the racism he’s battled all his life to the crumbling economy, even his bootstraps mentality won’t ensure success. But do you know what it does? Real innovation.
As “Flamin’ Hot” piles up with concerns — from Reagan-era economic worries to a fragile relationship with his father that’s barely been explored — Richard realizes he has to do something. large. Enter Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (Another fact-checking break: The movie mentions that another subset of Frito-Lay employees worked on the spicy chip, but enjoying “Flamin’ Hot” means we’re totally on Richard’s mission.) If anything, Richard— real and the movie — he knows that Mexican-Americans have money to spend and taste buds to tickle, which the rest of the snack food industry didn’t catch on before Richard came along.
It’s worth celebrating that Montañez’s story has finally led him to a place where he can deliver that message, both in a glossy film and in his career. The understated elements that actually happened hold true the most in an otherwise predictable film. Real life is messy and doesn’t always live up to the movies, but when “Flamin’ Hot” leans too far into Hollywood singles, we lose something far more satisfying than spice-dusted cheese puffs.
“Flamin’ Hot” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. It begins streaming on Hulu on Friday, June 9.
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