Eva Longoria’s Mild Take on a Spicy (Kind of) True Story


Poster for FLAMIN' HOT (2023)

What Flamin’ Hot lacks in heat it makes up for in heart. 

The film, which premiered at South by Southwest in March and is now streaming on Disney + and Hulu, tells the story of the creation of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. What you’ll be surprised to learn is that its inventor, Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), came up with the idea when he was a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory in California. Montañez grew up in a family of immigrants, and now as a husband and father in difficult economic times, he is fighting to make ends meet. After years of learning as much as he can while mopping, he thinks he’s found the solution to Frito-Lay’s struggling business and his family’s bills: a new, spicy product that tastes like the food he grew up on. The only problem: no one will listen.

I just wrote another review that used the phrase “paint-by-numbers” several times, but I’m ready to pick it right back up again. Flamin’ Hot uses a familiar plot structure following one man’s rise to the top against all odds, and unlike Montañez, its philosophy seems to be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or even, “If it’s worked before, do it exactly the same way.” Case in point: Several scenes straight-up lift the voiceover technique Michael Peña used in the first two Ant-Man films to comedically narrate other characters’ dialogue. This film also suffers with its wide release coming after Tetris and Air, two films about the creation of popular products with the same angle of one (or a few guys) vs. economic systems designed to prevent them from succeeding.

Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia, and Hunter Jones in FLAMIN' HOT (2023)

But Flamin’ Hot does pull off a few things those movies don’t. One: Its tone is much lighter than Tetris, which tried to convince us that a handheld video game helped bring down Communism, or…something like that? I swear I watched its entirety, but that film evaporated from my memory as I watched it. Two: Its stakes are real and relatable. Air is one of my favorite films of the year thanks to its sharp writing and directing, but most of us have more in common with little guys and gals who spend weeks looking for menial work like Richard and wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) than the execs at Nike. Nobody wants Matt Damon to lose his job in Air, but we know he’s got the savings and marketable skills to help him bounce back quickly. If Richard and Judy lose their jobs, we don’t know how they will feed their kids or when they’ll work again. Garcia and Gonzalez create the push-and-pull of despair and hope this story needs, and supporting players Dennis Haysbert (as a fellow put-upon little guy at the factory) and Tony Shalhoub (as the CEO we wish we had) provide convincing, though perhaps a little too convenient, secondary examples for the main conflict.

A third thing Flamin’ Hot pulls off that makes its finished product closer to Air than Tetris: its skewering of corporate culture. First-time narrative feature director Eva Longoria finds plenty of cathartic comedy in its portrayal of company politics at a place dedicated to addictive, deeply unhealthy snacks. In real life there is debate about how the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto came to be, and most likely Montañez did not think up the idea and test market it from his own kitchen as he claims. However, he did work his way up from from janitor to executive, and it’s all the more satisfying after an hour of watching most of those who should have been helping him grow ignore his passion and talents. Flamin’ Hot may be mild in flavor, but it’s hard to hate a movie devoted to making us little guys feel seen.

Jesse Garcia in FLAMIN' HOT (2023)