A skit from the classic sketch comedy Mr. Show told the story of a biopic all about a man winning a big race despite the hardships in his life. Later in the skit, it’s revealed that, not only were the hardships false, the real person never ran the race in question. Such is the case with Flamin’ Hot, a biopic that tells the story of Richard Montañez, a man that worked his way up the ranks in Frito-Lay by creating the titular Flamin’ Hot seasoning and going straight to the company president to get it made. The wrinkle is that, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation, this didn’t happen and Richard Montañez allegedly made the false claim to drive his social media and speaking engagements.
None of this technically affects the quality of the movie itself if you judge it on its own merits, but it’s difficult to hold the film in high regard once you know the truth. Flamin’ Hot begins by showing its protagonist as a small child as he navigates his Mexican-American identity while struggling against racism and socioeconomic disadvantages. Things pivot to him becoming a crook before finally realizing he needs to take care of his wife and kids by getting a real job. He ends up getting a job as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant, which hopes of one day becoming the plant’s machinist.
The janitor thing is also iffy, as records indicate that Richard Montañez was actually a machinist at that plant to begin with and not a janitor at all, but I suppose this makes for a better rags-to-riches story. Flamin’ Hot shares his trials and tribulations of toiling in obscurity while desperate to make something of himself. One of his kids ends up giving him the idea to make a slurry that can coat Frito-Lay products and the rest is fake history.
“There are few surprises here, but Flamin’ Hot is a decent watch while it’s on, and it can even pull at the heartstrings from time-to-time.”
As a movie, Flamin’ Hot is competent and moderately entertaining. It’s a heavily formulaic, by-the-books biopic that’s often cheesy (pun very intended), complete with plenty of typical heavy-handed dramatic moments. Richard mopes while his perfect wife Judy gives him a pep talk about how good and promising of a man he is while the melodramatic score plays. At one point, Richard climbs up on top of a machine and gives a big speech to his co-workers about how they can all pull through with a bit of gumption. It’s all effective enough, but the Frito-Lay branding and actors are where most of the colour is found.
The movie has a very game cast. Jesse Garcia does an admirable job of bringing Richard to life, while Annie Gonzalez gives an animated performance as his wife. Some veterans also appear in major roles, including Dennis Haybert and Tony Shalhoub as the Pepsi CEO who absolutely did not work at Pepsi during the period the movie says he did. The script is less impressive, as it’s mostly perfunctory, although the pacing moves at an efficient clip, making good use of the film’s tight 90ish minute runtime.
“As a movie, Flamin’ Hot is competent and moderately entertaining.”
Flamin’ Hot is competently directed by Eva Longoria of all people, who got plenty of decent performances out of her cast while making sure the tone was nice and even for the most part. The movie would have been better off with some more unique direction, but she did a solid job with what she had to work with. The cinematography is acceptable, despite being more than a little bland, though. Flamin’ Hot just isn’t a particularly interesting-looking movie, outside some choice sections (items onscreen showing what year it is during a swift montage and Pepsi execs acting like cholos while Richard tries to spice up their conversations come to mind.)
Flamin’ Hot is perfectly competent. It hits the typical notes you’re used to seeing in polished biopics, but the subject matter does a lot of the heavy lifting. People with a fondness for Frito-Lay products will enjoy seeing the snacks in the factory and the classic product bags that appear on shelves. There are few surprises here, but Flamin’ Hot is a decent watch while it’s on, and it can even pull at the heartstrings from time-to-time. The movie just doesn’t feel special and probably should have been canceled when it was revealed that the story’s central idea wasn’t true.