Movie review: 'Flamin' Hot' solid if not incendiary

Jesse Garcia plays Richard Montañez in 'Flamin' Hot." Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
1 of 5 | Jesse Garcia plays Richard Montañez in 'Flamin' Hot." Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

LOS ANGELES, June 7 (UPI) -- If Cheetos Flamin' Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks are a staple in one's pantry, then Flamin' Hot, premiering Friday on Hulu, may be monumental history. The historical comedy does a fine job showing the development of the flavor, though doesn't elevate the story beyond pleasant snack food.

Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) got a job at a Frito Lay factory as a janitor in the '80s. By befriending engineer Clarence Baker (Dennis Haysbert), Montañez aspired to work his way up while learning on the job.


By the early '90s, economic decline put Montañez's factory on the brink of closure. Taking the initiative, Montañez took home some discarded unflavored Cheetos and experimented with his own Mexican flavoring, birthing the Flamin' Hot variety.

Frito Lay has disputed Montañez account of creating the Flamin' Hot flavor. Even if the movie is just printing the legend as it were, there is still value in the story of a hard worker rising from custodian to marketing executive, which is true.


At the beginning, Montañez pounds the pavement looking for jobs and handing out resumes, but his criminal record and lack of a diploma make that difficult. He ultimately gets a referral at Frito Lay from a friend.

Flamin' Hot also conveys some of the racist microaggressions the Montañez family faces. Grade school bullies calling young Montañez "beaner" and strangers calling their kids "wetbacks" are surely only a portion of the real racism Latin Americans face.

The most impressive part of Flamin' Hot is seeing the factory in action. Whether the filmmakers used an actual factory or built one, the vast machinery shows everything that goes into making the snacks consumers take for granted.

The film touches on economic history, too, with President Ronald Reagan's food stamps cuts affecting the still struggling Montañez family. Little details of growing up in the '80s, like seeing CHiPs on a living room TV, add to the palpable sense of time.

The film is best when it presents those issues in a straightforward manner. However, many of the historical events are presented by using techniques borrowed from other movies and TV shows.

The Big Short didn't invent breaking the fourth wall and Drunk History didn't invent lip syncing to a narrator, but by the time Flamin' Hot utilizes those and other techniques, they feel familiar.


The Montañez family unit also represents a universal strength beyond the specific Cheetos Flamin' Hot story.

Richard's wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez), helps him with his Frito Lay application and supports his business ventures, within reason. She also speaks up when their children's needs have to come first.

In contrast, Richard's father, Vacho (Emilio Rivera), was abusive growing up, and now presumes to have found God and wants to "help" his son. However, Vacho's help is still critical and demeaning, not very godly.

Those are, unfortunately, real family dynamics many people must overcome. Showing that Richard could find a loving family of his own after growing up in that environment is vital.

If flavored Cheetos are as monumental as Air Jordan sneakers or the video game Tetris, Flamin' Hot doesn't quite make them feel as big as the recent movies about those products did.

Richard talks about culture and identity, but it seems like more of a reach that mass produced corporate snacks represent his specialized culture. But, if director Eva Longoria relates to it, who is to say that it doesn't?

Even getting Cheetos Flamin' Hot produced is not the end. They don't sell at first, and why would they with no marketing?


So the story comes full circle when Richard uses guerilla marketing to pound the pavement and give people samples until word-of-mouth grows.

On that level of Intro to Business 101, Flamin' Hot does a good job of simplifying the complexities of inventing a product and bringing it to market. It is an engaging story with positive messages about family and work ethic.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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