Many biopics follow a similar formula: a character who must defy the odds to accomplish something extraordinary. Several other ingredients may be added to taste in the hopes that the final product will be something audiences will want to devour. The recipe is consistent. In that regard, Flamin’ Hot is no different.

The movie centers around Richard Montañez (Jesse García), who worked his way from janitor at a Frito-Lay plant to marketing director. The defining moment in his career was his claim of having pitched the idea and developed the recipe for the wildly popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Even though Montañez himself did not invent the Flamin’ Hot brand, the movie mainly tells the story through his perspective, factual or not.

The Richard Montañez character serves as the narrator as he tells his story to the audience. He was born in Mexico and endured a difficult upbringing where he suffered from poverty and fraternal abuse. From childhood, he was exposed to the ugly truth of systemic racism, an experience that would lead him to become a small-time drug dealer. However, with the arrival of a new family, Richard sets out to find a job and straighten out his life.

Flamin' Hot SXSW Jesse Garcia
Jesse Garcia in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

After a plethora of refusals, he finally lands a job at the Frito-Lay plant in Cucamonga. His drive, determination, and ambition eventually see him climbing up the proverbial corporate ladder.

The climb is not easy. Richard faces many of the same challenges he faced growing up. His relationship with his father, Vacho (Emilio Rivera), is broken, coworkers are openly bigoted towards him, and marginalization is once again felt in the economy because of Reagonomics.

The road to success is not solitary, and Flamin’ Hot adds a cast of characters accompanying Richard along the way. Richard’s family, led by matriarch Judy (Annie González), is with her husband every step of the way. She encourages her husband and reminds him of the importance of family and faith during their most trying times. Frito Lay CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) takes the time to consider and recognize his employee’s business plans. Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert) is an engineer and coworker who becomes Richard’s mentor.

Eva Longoria sits in the director’s chair for the first time. She is as comfortable behind the camera as she is in front of it. She directs with confidence, seamlessly leading the film through the waves of shifting tones that might otherwise be clunky. She is not afraid to delve into the social issues that plague immigrants and generations of their families in the United States. With the same confidence, she embraces lightheartedness and humor to balance out the more difficult moments.

Flamin' Hot

Writers Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez prove adept at keeping viewers engrossed with their heartfelt and comedic screenplay. They use innovative ways to spice up the narration, ensuring it carries the necessary energy to never become dull.

The cast is superb as well. Led by Jesse García’s electric and honest performance, they each add their own special ingredient to the Flamin’Hot formula. Annie González brings heart, Dennis Haysbert adds resolve, Tony Shaloub peppers in faith, and the rest of the cast sprinkles in much humor.

Flamin’ Hot ultimately does enough to differentiate itself from the vast selection of biopics available on the market. Even though the story is mostly made up by its narrator, it still serves as a heartwarming and inspirational rags-to-riches story. As a result, Flamin’ Hot ends up being a finished product that mostly burns good.

Borja’s rating 6.5/10

What do you think of Flamin’ Hot? Let us know in the comments below! Watch Flamin’ Hot on Hulu and Disney+. Read Alan’s SXSW Review here.

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