If you haven’t noticed, there has been a recent abundance of films telling the stories of the “corporate underdog.” Blackberry is an entertaining, documentary-style telling of the Canadian-born company with the phone market in its hand (and subsequently lost it all). Air chronicled the Titan shoe company’s pursuit of the greatest player who ever laced up a pair of basketball sneakers. Tetris took a different approach – providing some slight commentary on the Cold War while setting the table for a pseudo-espionage-like romp about the fight for the rights of the classic puzzle game.
Director Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot encompasses the story of one man with a dream to strive for more. Within the film is the story of Richard Montañez and how he didn’t let his beginnings growing up in a labor camp and working as a janitor at Frito-Lay stop him on the way to eventually becoming vice president of multicultural sales & community promotions for PepsiCo. It’s never a bad moment to see the little guy win – especially as the film takes on subjects such as the challenging economics of the Reagan years to the rampant racism Mexican-Americans experienced in the California region.
Before we go any further, we must address the elephant in the room. Many of these biopics have accounts that are not totally accurate of space and time. According to an extensive report from the LA Times, Montañez was not the person who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Co-screenwriter Lewis Colick noted that “enough of the story is true.” This isn’t to take away from Montañez’s rise, which is inspiring in its own right. (PepsiCo acknowledges his contributions). However, the film itself hinges on a lot of its encouraging premises and setpieces on the creation of this product. It doesn’t entirely dilute some of what Flamin’ Hot is trying to speak to. With that being said, as the illuminating speeches hit their fever pitch, it’s hard not to ignore that fact.
Much of why the film works comes from the portrayal and narration style of Jesse Garcia as Montañez. We go throughout his younger years; even as Montañez dropped out of school, he had a spark to want to do something great with his life. It varies from duping the racist kids at school into buying burritos for a profit or taking pride in his heritage against all odds; Garcia’s charisma makes it easy for you to be enamored with this story. Another vital element originates within the bond formed by Montañez’s wife, Judy (played by Annie Gonzalez). It’s a delight to see these two interact with the bond they form, acting as an emotional anchor throughout this journey.
During his young life, Richard gets in trouble with the law and knows he has to change his life around with a baby on the way. That leads Richard to apply for a job at Frito Lay, where he starts as a janitor eager to learn the tricks of the mechanical trade. From there, he meets machine knowledge extraordinaire Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert), who shows he can aspire to be more than his current position. These men share that they come from backgrounds that much of the corporate structure overlooks.
When Richard’s penchant for hard work doesn’t lead him to where he wants to go, he looks to shake up the snack market with a variety of hot snacks geared towards the Hispanic community. Co-writers Linda Yvette Chávez and Colick create the runaway to speak to an authenticity concerning the cultural aspects of this story. Corporations tend to overlook specific communities regarding their bottom line – much of the fantasy dialogue and scenario speaks to the prejudices and suits unable to look beyond their windows to see these issues.
Flamin’ Hot starts to falter by not trusting that the audience is getting its against-all-odds message outside of the story for us. We get to see scenes where the power gets cut off, people lose shifts, and Richard’s late-night struggles make his dream happen where the rousing speeches don’t have the intended effect. There comes the point in the film where Richard gains the bravery to bring his invention straight to CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) to save the company from its money troubles. It’s a triumph in its own right for a higher-up to lend his ear to somebody not in the board room.
Despite this, the film doesn’t let its natural progressions take hold – instead, electing for moments to reiterate what you have witnessed. Perhaps it’s due to the beginnings of the origin that makes Flamin’ Hot feel the need to justify its central theme. Therein lies the difference between the glossy filter of showbiz and real life.
Flamin’ Hot will begin streaming on Disney+ and Hulu starting on June 9th.