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Flamin' Hot

Directed by Eva Longoria
Produced by DeVon Franklin
Screenplay by Linda Yvette Chávez and Lewis Colick Based on the memoir A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez by Richard Montañez and the life stories of Richard and Judy Montañez
With: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Emilio Rivera, Vanessa Martinez, Dennis Haysbert, Tony Shalhoub, Pepe Serna, Bobby Soto, Jimmy Gonzales, and Matt Walsh
Cinematography: Federico Cantini
Editing: Kayla Emter and Liza D. Espinas
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Runtime: 99 min
Release Date: 09 June 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

Here it is: he inspirational story of a Frito-Lay janitor who harnessed his entrepreneurial spirit, faith in himself, and the buying power of his Mexican-American community to revolutionize the snack market with the creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. The feature directorial debut of actor Eva Longoria, this is one of many 2023 films about a commercial product or business phenomenon. These movies range from Matt Johnson's surprisingly stellar Blackberry, about the rise and fall of the world's first smartphone, to Ben Affleck's dandy little Air, about how Nike signed rookie Michael Jordan to an industry-changing sneaker deal, to Craig Gillespie's disposable Dumb Money, about how a lone internet personality made the brick-and-mortar video game company GameStop into the hottest publicly traded stock on the market. In addition to these, 2023 gave us The Beanie Bubble, Spinning Gold, Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game, and, at the very bottom of the barrel, Tetris—Jerry Seinfeld is apparently hard at work on Unfrosted: The Pop-Tart Story (not a joke).

Flamin’ Hot not only ranks as the laziest and most forgettable film in this resurgent trend, it crams in every one of the worst tropes and cliches of the docudrama genre. Beginning with the notion that just making a film about the creation of a cheazy snackfood is a hilarious idea. However, it seems there might be an interesting story behind the development of this brand. Richard Montañez was indeed a former janitor at a Frito-Lay factory who rose through the ranks and became an executive in the company focused on expanding the product line to Hispanic consumers. Montañez's claims about his brainchild have been contested by Frito-Lay and disputed by an LA Times investigation, but regardless of the validity of Montañez's declarations or those who've tried to discredit them, there's probably at least enough truth to this tale to warrant a movie.

Unfortunately, screenwriters Linda Yvette Chávez and Lewis Colick avoid any attempt at plausibility and seem to go out of their way to ensure that Montañez's story plays like the exaggerated fabrications of a delusional fantasist. Perhaps that's their intention, but I kinda doubt it. I'm pretty sure this is meant to be an uplifting tale of living the American dream. Either way, movies like this either have to play things straight, finding the humor in realistic details, as Air does, or play things for laughs, exposing truths by way of farce, like Blackberry. Flamin’ Hot just introduces us to a character and has him talk endlessly for 99 minutes, illustrating what he says with playful yet bland imagery and boilerplate scenes. In an expository moment, I'm guessing was taken from Montañez's first memoir, A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie, we see how the savvy future business executive thwarted schoolyard bullies who teased him about bringing burritos to school by actually getting them to taste one. The scene ends with the scrawny kid demanding 25 cents for the extra burrito he's brought with him and the bully grudgingly producing a quarter. In any realistic playing of this scene, the bully would have hit the kid and taken the burrito. This early beat is so preposterous it's impossible to buy into anything Jesse Garcia, who plays Montañez, goes on to tell us in his wall-to-wall narration, even though the scene is followed with a totally accurate assessment of the situation for Mexican-Americans in mid-60s Southern California.

Longoria directs this transcribed audiobook of a screenplay as if she has a list of every hackneyed narrative technique and is determined to check 'em all off. We get a flashback when Montañez envisions a childhood exchange as if it were a 1950s TV sitcom, motivational speeches in which he inspires his fellow workers to help him make their product a success, and a whole bunch of love and praise heaped on the character of Montañez's wife Judy, even though she's totally undeveloped as a character. Plus, we get that old chestnut that seemed to have mercifully been dropped from the cinematic toolbox: exaggerated moments that play out in the protagonist's imagination the way he wished they'd happened, only to snap back with a, "naaaa, only kidding, here's how it really went down" reset in which the scene then restarts and unfolds as it "actually occurred." At one point, Longoria even employs ye olde' record-scratch sound effect! But this tired narrative trope only works in a comedy if the fantasy version of a scene is more heightened or ridiculous than the "real" version.

It would have been interesting to explore why Montañez's story has been disputed. Is he a liar? Is he the victim of a deeply racist system? Are both true? We're told via the endless voice-over about how exploitative and dismissive corporate culture is to Latinos like Montañez and his fellow workers at the bottom of the company hierarchy, but what we're shown is how easily his ideas and faith in himself enabled him to rise above it all. According to the film, much of his success was the result of reaching out to and impressing Roger Enrico, the CEO of Frito-Lay's parent company, PepsiCo. As played by Tony Shalhoub, Roger Enrico is presented as a warm-hearted guy who recognizes Montañez's industrious spirit and becomes his champion. Yeah right, the CEO of Pepsi was the salt of the Earth, always ready to reward the hard work of even the lowliest member of his team—pull this leg and it plays "La Cucaracha!"

Twitter Capsule:

Eva Longoria leaves no cliche unturned in telling the story of the Flamin' Hot Cheetos inventor Richard Montañez. Ironic that of the near-dozen 2023 movies about industry-changing products, the spiciest invention got the blandest movie.