Film reviews and more since 2009

Flamin’ Hot (2023) review

Dir. Eva Longoria

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence we are seeing a particular breed of biographies in American cinema; I’ve seen them billed as “corporate hero” films and I can’t think of a better way to describe them. You know the type. They’re films that tell the unlikely story of a product launch that shows not only the ingenuity of human creation, but not without lionizing a particular corporation for their willingness to see the vision through. Naturally, they come at a time where consumer confidence is sagging as inflation is rising. You need not go far to see recent examples, as Air, Tetris, and BlackBerry have all been released this calendar year alone.

Now, we have Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot, which revolves around the creation of the spicy variety of Cheetos that fly off gas station shelves and leave your fingers caked in a fire-red “cheetle.” Despite Frito-Lay-janitor-turned-executive Richard Montañez’s claims about creating the snack coming into question, the producers opted to tell the story that he relayed in his memoir, A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive. This is American mythmaking at its finest. We so desperately want to believe it happens like it does in the movies. Furthermore, we want to believe that a former gangmember eventually left the streets, started a dead-end job as a custodian, and went on to make something of himself, against all odds, by being more than just a cog in the corporate wheel. We want that story because it makes us feel good, facts be damned.

Longoria’s directorial debut tells the story of Montañez (Jesse Garcia), who narrates much of the picture. He’s a self-proclaimed “vato” from the rugged streets of Southern California, who leaves the street-life behind in favor of one that will ultimately be safer for him, his wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez), and their children. A friend helps get him a janitor gig at a Frito-Lay factory. Although simply tasked with mopping floors and cleaning machines, the entire chip-making process fascinates Richard. He bucks the corporate hierarchy by getting close with Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), the veteran engineer tech, who takes a liking to his go-getter attitude.

As screenwriters Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez tell it, a sagging economy and an unforgiving round of layoffs at the Frito-Lay plant are what gets Richard thinking about how market share can be improved. He notices that the company’s products in his predominately Mexican neighborhood don’t move ostensibly because that sector of consumers doesn’t see a connection to their flavors. He thinks about how his son loves elote because “it burns, but it burns good.” So, Richard decides to clean store shelves of their spices and get to work on a recipe that will sizzle taste-buds while giving Frito-Lay a product that will stand out in their already-vast portfolio.

Colick and Chávez have some fun in how they present Montañez’s story. Garcia’s narration is peppered with quips, zingers, Spanglish, and blue-collar contextualizations of corporate meetings. The most entertaining bits come when Montañez imagines what takes place in the Frito-Lay boardroom meetings, led by CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub). He imagines their discussions going down like Mexican gangs, and what unfolds is not just amusing but also probably accurate to what Montañez initially imagined. How would he know how executives behaved?

Flamin’ Hot‘s main problem is its idealization. It so badly wants this story to be true, and it wants the way it tells to be to accurate too. Longoria’s direction isn’t bad, but it has a distinctly television feel to it. It plays like a reality TV program insofar that conflicts are resolved in just a couple of scenes, and it adopts the Full House ideology where every issue can be solved with a speech of some kind.

Much of the film, like Cheetos themselves, is momentarily satisfying, but proves to be empty calories in the long-run. The dialog between Richard and Judy (Gonzalez is so sadly underutilized here) consists of pat encouragement (“Someone’s gonna say yes today!”), and contributes to the cheerleading tone of the film, which feels artificial as opposed to enlightening.

Flamin’ Hot is nothing if not well-acted, at least. Garcia oozes charisma, Matt Walsh owns the role as a prick of a plant manager, and Shalhoub makes you wish all CEOs had a beating heart and a moral compass. Personally, Cheetos have always disgusted me, which I suppose isn’t the worst thing in the world, as I already have enough vices that cost me money and do anything but assure I’ll see a healthy and prosperous old age. That said, there’s worse things you can put on your entertainment radar. But just like your choice in food, there are certainly better options out there too.

NOTE: Flamin’ Hot is now streaming on both Hulu and Disney+.

Starring: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Emilio Rivera, Vanessa Martinez, Dennis Haysbert, Tony Shalhoub, and Matt Walsh. Directed by: Eva Longoria.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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