Jesse Garcia in Flamin Hot. Photo provided by Disney

by Dwight Brown film critic for and NNPA News Wire


If tenacity was a superpower Richard Montañez would be in the Justice League inspiring people, all over the land. His indomitable spirit is the heart of this thoroughly entertaining and very amusing biofilm.   

Montañez’s book, A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie: from Janitor to Executive, is the source material for this compelling look at a guy who rose from a blue-collar worker in a Southern California Frito-Lay plant to vice president of multicultural sales & community promotions for PepsiCo. His story is a blueprint for the American dream. It’s also his personal version of events. Frito-Lay released a statement that is a bit more ambiguous: “We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products to him.” So those who view this inspiring movie be forewarned—the truth of the matter might not be in every frame.  

As written by screenwriters Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez and developed and directed by actress/director Eva Longoria, the narrative spins this tale: Born in the late 1950s to a family of Mexican immigrants in Cucamonga Valley, between L.A. and San Bernadino, Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia, Quinceañera) marries his high school sweetheart Judy (Annie Gonzalez, Gentefied). He hangs out with the wrong crowd and doesn’t have a high school diploma. Prospects for living the good life are slim and with his dad Nacho (Emilio Rivera, Sons of Anarchy) constantly demeaning him, Rich has confidence issues.

Jesse Garcia and Dennis Haysbert in Flamin’ Hot. Photo provided by Disney

He leans on his friend Tony (Bobby Soto) to get him a job at a Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga, and that kickstarts his career. First day on the job he’s the most inquisitive janitor they ever had. His superiors and colleagues try to dissuade him, but the man is unstoppable. He cozies up to Clarence (Dennis Haysbert, TV’s 24), an engineer, who mentors him. Rich’s curiosity, drive and determination make him question why Frito-Lay products don’t include outreach to the Latino community or the kind of seasonings they love: “They’re looking for themselves on those shelves.”

That fated day when PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub, Monk) tells his employees to “think like a CEO” becomes that catalyst for his full-on entrepreneurial drive. Rich, Judy and his sons (Brice Gonzalez and Hunter Jones) experiment with sauces and flavors, homing in on Flamin’ Hot, a burn-your-mouth, great tasting coating that gives Cheetos and other F-L products bang. He breaks ranks, contacts Enrico, pitches his idea and the rest is history. Or at least Montañez’s history.

Wisely the script throws hurdles, challenges, setbacks and advisories in Ritchie’s path. Add in the father who never showed affection, and this sympathetic protagonist will have viewers rooting for him like he was a sports hero. Members of the Chicano community, who have faced similar circumstances and headwinds, will relate to his plight and spunk. Audiences in general will tear up as Montañez blossoms into a leader. A Norma Rae. A warrior for the working class. Add in an engaging plotline, vibrant characters, consequential relationships, mentorships and friendships and what’s on view becomes more and more compelling.

Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez in Flamin’ Hot. Photo provided by Disney

A less talented director would have taken a straight-forward approach. But Longoria turns her creative juices up into overdrive. Garcia’s voice, as Montañez, provides voiceover narration in English, Spanish and street language. The cast is animated. Funny scenes, and there are many, counterbalance the corporate drama, tortured father/son dynamics, thug life and smoochy romance. When Frito-Lay upper management is at a company meeting, Rich reimagines it with the executives acting like gangbangers. It’s funny, clever and shows that the film is not taking itself too seriously. 

The love between Rich and Judy triumphs because Garcia and Gonzalez flesh out the characters. Haysbert has a quiet, stoic presence. Matt Walsh (Veep) as the obstructionist boss is a buzz kill—in the best way. When Clarence and Rich support each other, it’s very touching. The perfectly cast film (casting director Carla Hool) is augmented by an outstanding tech crew. Elaine Montalvo’s costumes, Cabot McMullen and Brandon Mendez’s production design, Federico Cantini’s cinematography and Kayla Emter and Liza D Espinas’ editing contribute to the film’s success. And Marcel Zarvos (Fences) rousing musical score fills in any cracks.

This vibrant David versus corporate Goliath parable is worth retelling. Even if it’s not the absolute truth. Why? Because it can inspire and empower people all over the land.

Now on Hulu and Disney+.

YouTube video
Flamin’ Hot trailer

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