Flamin’ Hot

When Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia, "Ambulance") was made fun of at school for his mom’s packed bean burrito lunches, he turned it to his benefit, inviting the bullies to taste them and then starting a business selling them.  But as he grew older, he succumbed to the cholo culture, only pulling himself out when he couldn’t provide for his family, following local drug dealer Tony Romero (Bobby Soto) into a job at the Rancho Cucamonga Frito-Lay plant.  Rich spent decades on the janitorial staff, always trying to better himself, until a morale boosting video by PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) inspired him to invent a new product line, “Flamin’ Hot.”

Laura's Review: C+

I can understand why this story appealed to Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria, who chose it to make her directorial debut, but there is one rather glaring problem with it – it isn’t true at all.  While writers Lewis Colick ("October Sky") and Linda Yvette Chávez based their screenplay on Montañez’s book 'A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie: from Janitor to Executive,' the Los Angeles Times debunked his story back in 2021 (click here to read the article).  Update:  a Variety story sheds more light - click here.

That said what Longoria has made is a serviceable fairy tale as corny as a Frito, a television movie featuring a couple of lovely supporting performances that is the cinematic equivalent of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos which drive it.

After getting through his ‘if you’re treated like a criminal, you become one’ phase, Rich gets caught in a lie during his interview with plant manager Lonnie (Matt Walsh), but wins him over saying he’s a PhD – ‘poor, hungry and determined.’  He is proud to have a regular paying job and is the type of worker resented by his peers for putting in too much effort.  Fascinated by the workings of the plant (Longoria does a good job showing this without getting too deep in the weeds), Rich sidles up to maintenance engineer Clarence (Dennis Haysbert).  Clarence is initially suspicious, having mentored one too many underling only to see them advance over him, but eventually takes the Latino janitor under his wing.  But while Rich learns a lot from Clarence, it is the CEO’s secretary Patti (Lora Martinez-Cunningham, making a small role stand out) who gives him his big break by putting his call through.

The film’s establishing section uses a lot of narration to speed us through the years, its eras defined by Judy Montañez’s (Annie Gonzalez) changing hairstyles.  Longoria stresses family throughout her film, Rich and Judy’s supportive relationship moving through rough times with their ‘3, 2, 1, breathe’ mantra, their youngest child acting as the consumer panel for Rich and Judy’s evolving chili slurry.   When the product goes to market and initially fails to sell, a grassroots marketing campaign involves the entire community.

“Flamin’ Hot” gets a lot of flavor from two veteran actors, Haysbert adding gravitas, Shalhoub benevolence.   But it would have been a lot spicier to delve into why Montañez, who really did rise through the ranks to become a marketing director, chose to spin this tale.

Robin's Review: C+

Richard Montanez (Jesse Garcia) works very hard in his janitorial job at a Fritolay plant in Cucamonga California. One day, he is inspired to create a new flavor that would appeal to the Latino market and calls it “Flamin’ Hot.”

I think you have to look at Eva Longoria’s feature directing debut in a couple of ways. One way is to view the film as a documentary drama, telling Montanez’s rags to riches story of hard work and success. However, if you look into his tale of achievement, it is a very different story than the one told here. It is one of fabrication and embellishment and, apparently, entirely invented...

With this in mind, I decided to take the story told in “Flamin’ Hot” as a fairy tale, rather than actually true. That makes a difference in how I judge the story at hand. After sitting through this awfully cute take on ambition, I found it to be a likable confection that felt manufactured and invented. This makes perfect sense watching the fiction unfold.

Langoria’s tyro film is based on Montanez’s memoir. A Boy, A Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive, and it is a story of believing in yourself and not giving up. That said, the result is a nice story that does not ring quite true with its many coincidences and its overwhelmingly feel good vibe.

Montanez and his wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez), and young son (Brice Gonzalez), are an adorable little family – maybe a bit too adorable to be believable – and you want them to succeed. And, as a fairy tale, rags to riches story, it does.

Searchlight Pictures' "Flamin'  Hot" begins streaming on Hulu and Disney+ on June 9, 2023.