THE STORY – Richard Montanez, the son of a Mexican immigrant, was a janitor at Frito Lay when he came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. His creation, inspired by the flavors of his community, revitalizes Frito-Lay and disrupts the food industry.
THE CAST – Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert & Tony Shalhoub
THE TEAM – Eva Longoria (Director), Lewis Colick & Linda Yvette Chávez (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
Within the last few years, the recent uptick of films focusing on the creation of beloved products has risen within media. Therefore, it’s getting harder to tell these days if these films are celebrating the ingenuity behind the idea or the promotion of a product to boost sales. The lines are constantly blurring, and it is difficult not to be cynical about it. With that said, “Flamin’ Hot” has enough heart and charm to dispel some of these concerns. Director, Eva Longoria, tries her best to acknowledge the importance of the person and not the corporation. This results in a breezy and lively biopic that is an entertaining watch.
“Flamin’ Hot” follows the life story of Richard Montanez (Jesse Garcia) as you see his rise from a struggling family man and janitor to the eventual creator of the quintessential spicy snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The film starts with the typical biopic conventions that audiences are used to. Therefore, the film struggles immediately at trying to show as much of Richard’s adolescence in as little time as possible, or at least the highlights of it. His childhood experiences in the film are filled with encounters with cartoon-like bullies and setting up his relationships with his alcoholic father and his eventual future wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez). It isn’t until we get to the older versions of Richard and Judy that the film begins to start to become more engrossing. Garcia is so charismatic in his portrayal of Richard Montanez, the life source of the film that keeps its wheels spinning. Garcia’s liveliness gives his performance of Richard such genuineness to him. Richard’s eager displays of ingenuity and how it is incorporated into the relationships of his life are where the film shines the brightest. Garcia and Gonzalez are the reason the audience becomes invested in Richard’s attempts to better his family’s life, despite us knowing how the story eventually pans out. Gonzalez is great in the film as well, playing terrifically off Garcia. Not only is she funny, but she matches Garcia’s emotional intensity in the heavier scenes of the film. There is authenticity between their shared love and the pain they’ve experienced together. Sure, the film wouldn’t work as well as it does without Garcia being as good as he is, but the same can be said about Gonzalez.
The supporting performances in the film are also enjoyable. Dennis Haysbert steals every scene he’s in when given the opportunity. Always known for being serious (especially with that iconic voice of his), Haysbert gets to have the chance to let loose in the film. For the most part, Haysbert plays the straight man opposite of Garcia’s enthusiastic persona. The two opposites often clash, creating some genuinely comedic moments and an exciting evolution of their dynamic. Tony Shaloub also is entertaining in the film, avoiding the traditional neurotic angle we know of him in exchange for a calmer on-screen presence. It’s a nice change of pace and leads to the film’s more sincere moments.
Longoria’s direction is also a highlight of “Flamin’ Hot.” Her presence behind the camera is poised, rising above the more conventional genre aspects the screenplay inevitably follows. The vibrancy Longoria brings with her confident visual choices makes for a more engaging watch for such a traditional biopic. Having a Latina director like Longoria, who resonated with this story, is very important. The film could have come off as incredibly unauthentic in another filmmaker’s hands. Richard’s experience is relatable to Longoria’s experience as a Latino American. Longoria and the film’s screenwriter Yvette Chávez capture a Chicano culture filled with love, dedication, and loyalty that represents an often discredited group in this society.
Chávez and Colick’s screenplay is more potent in some parts compared to the whole. The inventive manner in which narration is done (especially paired with Longoria’s direction) is a highlight of the film. Every boardroom scene made the very standard exposition of key moments more palatable compared to what it could have been. The biggest problem with the screenplay is that most of the machinations of the creation of the iconic chip are never as consistently absorbing as the motivating factors behind it. The relationships of Richard’s life are more worth the audience’s emotional investment than hearing about the business aspect of distributing the chip. It is intriguing to see how the issues get resolved, but it’s nowhere near as entertaining as watching Richard spend family time experimenting with the flavors during a taste test. It gives and takes but more of the latter, unfortunately.
“Flamin’ Hot” isn’t on the level with product biopics such as “The Social Network” or the recent 2023 film “Air.” Where it does set itself apart is by telling a culturally unique story that is relatable to many. The film’s authenticity is its heart. Longoria truly wants others to learn about a story as impactful as the success of Richard Montanez. Sure, the film isn’t the most groundbreaking genre-defining biopic, but it can be alluring and, at the very least, will keep you entertained for its brisk 99-minute runtime.