Home » ‘Flamin’ Hot’ Review – A Crowd-Pleasing Triumph

‘Flamin’ Hot’ Review – A Crowd-Pleasing Triumph

by Diego Andaluz
Jesse Garcia stars as Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez restocking an aisle of chips and snacks at a grocery store in the movie FLAMIN' HOT.

On paper, a film centered on the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos doesn’t sound like an enticing pitch. In a time where every corporate product under the sun seems like it has a film in the works (Ben Affleck’s Air only being one recent example), you would question how much a narrative focused on one of America’s most popular spicy snacks could stand out from the crowd. However, Eva Longoria shows us that the origin of the product is more inspiring than you could imagine with her feature directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot. With a revolutionary idea birthed from the mind of lowly Mexican-American Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez resulting in the invention of the “flamin’ hot” line of products and more, Longoria focuses on his personal rags-to-riches story to make a crowd-pleaser that may just become one of the largest wins for Latino representation in entertainment this summer. 

Starting with the early days of Richard Montañez, Flamin’ Hot takes us through a whirlwind montage that shows an initial glimpse of what makes this inspirational story so unique. As a young boy, Montañez grows up eating burritos for lunch – something his white classmates bully him for. But after convincing them to try his burrito, they love the taste. Seeing the demand, a young Montañez starts selling burritos to the entire school, racking up money until a run-in with the law leaves him penniless and bound to a cycle of injustice. Fast forwarding to years later, we’re quickly introduced to an older Montañez (now played by Jesse Garcia), thriving in a life of crime alongside his partner Judy (Annie Gonzalez), who complement each other à la Bonnie and Clyde. That is, until Judy receives life-changing news: she’s pregnant. 

From that day forward, the Montañez family attempts to live an honest life. In search of a steady paycheck and attempting to stay honest, Montañez gets a job as a janitor at the Frito-Lay corporation through his friend Ralph (Bobby Soto). With a determined mentality to work his way up the ranks, he quickly tries to impress his boss (played by Matt Walsh) and a top engineer on his floor named Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), who soon reluctantly takes him under his wing. Despite his attempts at career growth, Montañez unfortunately finds himself at a standstill, unable to break through a white-led hierarchical structure and hindered by the economic crises of the Reagan era in the ’80s that prevent advancement in the food industry. 

Throughout the rest of Flamin’ Hot, we follow Montañez in his journey of making and pitching the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto to the man at the very top, PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub). He hurdles over one obstacle after the other, overcoming them with the immeasurable help of Judy at his side… to only be faced with a larger challenge waiting down the line. This cycle, when paired with the biographical nature of the movie, leads to the formulaic sheen that often plagues the biopic genre. Employing a structure that lacks the innovative spirit of Montañez’s work, occasional lulls in pace and predictable story beats ultimately hurt the narrative impact of the film. For better or worse, from the moment Flamin’ Hot starts, it’s clear where it’s going and how it will get there. 

Jesse Garcia stars as Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez checking out the first batch of Hot Cheetos created in the conveyor belt line operated by factory engineer Clarence played by Dennis Haysbert in the movie FLAMIN' HOT.
Jesse Garcia & Dennis Haysbert in ‘Flamin Hot’ courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

However, under the lively direction of Eva Longoria, Flamin’ Hot avoids the pitfall of its formulaic nature becoming a fatal issue. Rather, the film embraces it, leaning into its proven structure to extract an infectious energy from start to finish. Peppered with montages cut with Kayla Emter and Liza D. Espinas’ rhythmic editing to a vibrant score by Marcelo Zarvos, Flamin’ Hot hits telegraphed beats with enough zest to where you just can’t help but cheer along. With this dynamic rhythm, scenes that would feel like boxes lazily checked off in a lesser biographical film – such as the Montañez family gathering ingredients to make their own “spicy slurry” and the final product being distributed across the Chicano community – instead shine with an energetic flow. Having only directed television up until now, in shows like Jane the Virgin and Black-ish, Eva Longoria shows great potential on the big screen.

Likewise, the screenplay by Linda Yvette Chávez and Lewis Colick breaks through its familiarity, shining with cultural authenticity and a touching focus on familial relationships that make up the heart of this film. Chavez and Colick bring the true story of Richard Montañez (proven in a recent controversy) and all of his struggles to the forefront, as a first-gen son of Mexican immigrants eager to achieve the American dream. In spite of the estranged relationship with his father Vacho (Emilio Rivera) and all the obstacles stacked against him, he’s determined to take his family name to new heights. This specific theme of cultural perseverance is explored with such care in the script. Suffice it to say, Flamin’ Hot has the power to uplift not just Latinos but all working-class individuals and immigrants across the nation with its universal, heavy-hitting messages. 

The talented and diverse cast ensemble of Flamin’ Hot, spearheaded by Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez, lightens up the screen with their depiction of dreamers that will stop at nothing to achieve their wildest goals and support their friends and family along the way. With an eclectic group of colorful personalities, and heartwarming ends to their character arcs, the memorable performances and the film overall touch on the same pulse that led to the awards-worthy success stories of CODA and recent Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All At Once. If Searchlight Pictures were to give Flamin’ Hot an awards-qualifying release, it wouldn’t be out of the question for this film to find success on the largest stage.

Spotlighting a community that is rarely represented to this extent in the entertainment industry with such authenticity and soul, Flamin’ Hot is a triumph for Latino representation and bodes well for the future of Latinos in the industry – both in front and behind the camera.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Flamin’ Hot premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. The film releases on Hulu and Disney+ June 9!

Follow Awards Editor Diego Andaluz on Twitter: @thediegoandaluz

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