Hollywood loves an origin story, and it loves to revise history. Flamin’ Hot, Eva Longoria’s feature-length directorial debut, walks the line between both, and ultimately delivers a fun, feel-good story.
Standout Jesse Garcia plays Richard Montañez, a high-school dropout and drug dealer who has to find steady work when his wife Judy (a wonderful Annie Gonzalez) gets pregnant. He takes a job as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant and spends the next 10 years trying to work his way up. He’s a striver, and one of the California plant’s longtime engineers, Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), reluctantly becomes his mentor.
Director: Eva Longoria
Longoria’s debut feature film makes for a compelling underdog story.
Films about popular products are hot right now: Tetris, BlackBerry, Dungeons & Dragons, and Air are also debuting at SXSW 2023. And Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are now just part of online culture. But Flamin’ Hot, which is set to debut on Hulu June 9, focuses more on Montañez’s family and community, and his quest to get a spicy chip out to his people. The brainstorming ends when his younger son (Enkyboys’ Brice Gonzalez) declares one particular iteration “burns good.”
That scene is triumphant—a Mexican-American family gathered around the dinner table marveling at their DIY creation. And there there’s the alleged reality: In 2021, when the film was already in production, the L.A. Times published an investigative piece that concluded Montañez did not invent the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos flavor. Longoria responded to that claim in recent interviews by saying they aren’t telling the history of the product, but rather Montañez’s life. As a workaround, there is one scene that nods at a group of Frito-Lay scientists, who were allegedly already working on a spicy chip.
Does that take away from the story? No, Garcia’s Montañez is engaging enough to sell it, and even states in voiceover that he’s an unreliable narrator. Plus, when have biopics ever told the whole truth?
The script lifts parts of Montañez’s two memoirs to tell the chronological story, but Longoria smartly adds in some fantastical visuals to mark the passage of time. Flamin’ Hot does start to feel a little by-the-numbers halfway through, and you know that his story has to have a happy ending so there aren’t a lot of stakes. (But there are many, many inspirational speeches.)
While Flamin’ Hot dips into some clichéd biopic territory, it’s an entertaining and touching look at community and perseverance—and its byproducts.