Directed by: Eva Longoria
Premise: Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) works as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant. When the plant’s future is threatened, Montañez develops the “Flamin’ Hot” flavor of Cheetos and convinces Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) to mass produce it.
What Works: Flamin’ Hot is a successful iteration of the underdog story. Richard Montañez is portrayed as an unlikely hero who rises to the top with ingenuity and hard work. The filmmakers aim to create a feel-good story and they succeed. The narrative is compelling and smartly structured so that Montañez’s quest to create a new snack isn’t just about personal glory but about saving his plant and his coworker’s jobs. Cast in the lead role, Jesse Garcia has a blue-collar presence that’s appealing. He’s funny and personable but he’s also allowed to be vulnerable; the film finds drama in masculinity. As portrayed in Flamin’ Hot, the Montañez family was on the verge of poverty and Richard was sensitive about his failure to provide. This conflict enhances the stakes of the story. Flamin’ Hot is about Hispanic characters drawing on their culture, and in particular the Hispanic community’s taste for spicy condiments, and Montañez’s ethnicity is simultaneously a source of inspiration as well as an obstacle as he must overcome discrimination. The domestic and economic and cultural elements combine to make an appealing underdog story.
What Doesn’t: While Flamin’ Hot succeeds as an inspirational story it also dishonest. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Richard Montañez did not in fact create the Flamin’ Hot flavor. He did work for Frito-Lay and did become a marketing executive but according to the Times’ reporting the snack was on store shelves years earlier. Another of the film’s embellishments is Montañez’s relationship with Roger Enrico who did not become Frito-Lay CEO until after Flamin’ Hot products were already in production. But beyond the factual manipulation, which is arguably excusable in a dramatic film, Flamin’ Hot is a portrait of a beneficent CEO who goes out of his way to uplift his employees. This is where the film crosses over from being merely optimistic to being at best naïve corporate apologia. Like a lot of films that dramatize bringing a product to market, Flamin’ Hot idealizes the company and the picture functions as a public relations piece. However, unlike Air or even Barbie, there is no critique of corporate power and its influence on the culture. The filmmakers never question the CEO’s imperative to close manufacturing plants in the name of profit as opposed to cutting executive pay.
Disc extras: On Hulu.
Bottom Line: In and of itself, Flamin’ Hot succeeds as a crowd-pleasing underdog story and as that the movie is well produced and hits all the right notes. The film is also fundamentally dishonest and has a tone-deaf regard for labor issues.
Episode: #959 (July 30, 2023)