“Flamin’ Hot” Movie Review – The Hollywood Reporter

Listen, I love a tasty salty snack as much as the next guy. And if you promise not to tell my cardiologist, I’ll even admit to devouring my share of Cheetos. But a feature film about the guy who claims to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? It seems a bit overkill. I mean, when I was eating them, I never thought the experience would be enhanced by learning the backstory. What’s next, an epic drama about the creator of Twizzlers?

Well, I’m here to eat my hat, or at least some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, because Flaming hot, receiving its world premiere on SXSW before premiering in June on Hulu, turns out to be an utterly delicious rags-to-riches story that should appeal to anyone in need of edification. Superbly directed by Eva Longoria, this fun and moving film defies expectations as much as its main character.

Flaming hot

The essential

A spicy treat.

Place: SXSW Film Festival (headliners)
Discard: Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Emilio Rivera, Dennis Haysbert, Tony Shalhoub, Matt Walsh, Bobby Soto, Pepe Serna
Director: Eva Longoria
Screenwriters: Lewis Colick, Linda Yvette Chavez

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 39 minutes

It would be the Mexican American Richard Montañez, wonderfully played by Jesse Garcia (Quinceanera), which tells his story, beginning with how, as a young boy, he sold his mother’s burritos to his elementary school classmates, introducing them to the joys of Mexican cuisine. He falls into gangs as a teenager, committing petty crimes, until he goes right after his wife Judy (endearing Annie Gonzalez) becomes pregnant for the first time. With the help of his best friend Tony (Bobby Soto), he manages to get a job as a janitor at the local Frito-Lay factory, with Judy having to help him with the application due to her limited reading and in writing.

There he meets Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), an extremely proud “self-taught” engineer who makes the factory machinery roar. Richard is interested in mechanics, wanting to learn how everything works. After initially being suspicious, Clarence, taking advantage of the attention, eventually makes Richard his protege, patiently explaining how the products are made.

Richard works hard at Frito-Lay for over a decade, never managing to land a promotion from the factory’s self-absorbed manager (Matt Walsh). But he has a eureka moment when he discovers that Cheetos would appeal to him and his fellow Latinos a lot more with the addition of a little chili seasoning. Using his wife and children as a focus group, he becomes a budding food scientist, experimenting with a wide variety of chili powders until he finds the right mix that will produce a painful but delicious heat.

Bringing his breakthrough discovery to the attention of Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico (the ever-versatile Tony Shalhoub) is another problem. Inspired by a motivational workplace video featuring Enrico that his colleagues barely notice, Richard makes the bold decision to call the executive directly and pitch his idea. Intrigued, Enrico tells Richard to prepare a presentation, and despite his complete ignorance of marketing, Richard manages to sell him the test of the idea thanks to his unbridled enthusiasm which more than compensates for his unpolished delivery.

The first test of the product falls flat, with consumers showing no interest. But Richard enlists friends and family to distribute free samples to the local Hispanic community, and the product quickly takes off like wildfire. The rest, as they say, is history, with Richard becoming vice president of the company.

Screenwriters Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chavez, working from two books written by Montañez, play cleverly with the story, infusing the feel-good tale with plenty of levity and hilarious fantasy sequences. They also mine the story for rich emotion, especially with the tender relationship between Richard and his ever-supportive wife, who will stop at nothing to help him achieve his dreams. The film’s long timeline and ever-changing tones would be challenging for any director, but Longoria, making his feature film debut, handles things expertly, infusing the proceedings with a loving appreciation and genuine portrayal of the Latin American community at its heart.

After seeing the movie, I began to research diligently, quickly discovering that Flaming hot may not be quite the true story it claims to be. I quickly stopped digging any further, not wanting to learn an inconvenient reality that might diminish my appreciation. After all, as we learned from another great movie, when the legend comes true, print the legend.

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