“Flamin’ Hot,” a biopic about the man who claimed to create Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, sounds like a “30 Rock” joke on paper. And unfortunately, the new film from director Eva Longoria plays out like a “30 Rock” joke stretched to agonizing lengths — a broad, hokey collection of cliches that pauses every five minutes for a new speech from a new character who lays out why this unlikely story is so important.
You can feel the movie demanding your cheers.
Let’s forget for a moment that the subject of the film is almost certainly a liar, as the LA Times reported in 2021 that Richard Montanez’s rags-to-riches story of rising from janitor to executive at Frito-Lay as the inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is largely bogus, and that he’s taking credit for the work of an entire team of people who actually developed and brought the massively popular (and yes, truly delicious) snack to market. Does the movie work on its own? Does it work as an adaptation of a fairy tale/urban legend, divorced from actual reality? The answer is no, even though the movie’s intensely earnest tone and intentions suggest a team of filmmakers with something important to say, even if the message is muddled with cliches and tired tropes.
A Matter Of Pride
“Flamin’ Hot” follows Richard Montanez (Jesse Martinez) as he struggles as a janitor in a Frito-Lay plant in the ’80s and ’90s, and, with the help of his ever-loyal wife (Vanessa Martinez) realizes that his company isn’t targeting the growing Hispanic/Latino market. He then single-handedly masterminds a plan to save the entire company by creating and marketing a spicy snack product to appeal to consumers from his cultural background. Even if the story is bogus (and once again, that seems likely), it’s a terrific little narrative and one that clearly means a great deal to Longoria, who ensures that the message of the film could not be missed even if you muted it and turned away from the screen. “Flamin’ Hot” isn’t about spicy Cheetos — it’s about when a major corporation realized they could make a lot of money by making chips for an untapped market.
There’s undoubtedly an issue of pride here — Longoria and her fellow filmmakers are clearly proud that the tastes of Mexican-Americans led to the creation of a massively successful product that continues to fly off the shelves to this day (and rightfully so, because Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are f***ing delicious). But that pride shoots “Flamin’ Hot” in the foot, as it pauses its narrative at regular intervals to make sure you, the viewer, knows that this is the intended message by letting one character or another transform the subtext into text via increasingly repetitive speeches. You can only take so many emotional monologues about why this neon-red chip is important before you want to shout at the screen to just get on with it.
That’s not to say that “Flamin’ Hot” isn’t without its charms. After a rough, hurried start that utilizes harried voice-over like a crutch, the film finds itself at its most interesting when it’s about the process of working at a Frito-Lay plant, and the social hierarchy that runs the whole operation. Longoria’s direction is at its best when it’s focused on the Soderbergh-ian nuts and bolts of how this place works, and how delicious chips are made. But the script, credited to Linda Yvette Chavez and Lewis Colick, never relaxes into a groove, instead finding every quiet moment an excuse to launch into a comedy fantasy sequence or a goofball sideshow. “Flamin Hot” teases us with the suggestion that we’re about to settle into a time and place, but it’s far more interested in goofball jokes that never quite land and biopic cliches that should have a neon sign blasting “please clap.”
Somewhat ironically, the best gags in “Flamin Hot” come when Richard acknowledges that perhaps he was exaggerating a certain moment or scene, and the movie rewinds to showcase something far more mundane. It’s the closest that the film comes to acknowledging that its lead subject was investigated for fibbing about the whole thing before cameras started rolling, and there’s certainly a better movie out there that would grapple with this. If you’re armed with the knowledge that Richard Montanez reportedly made the whole thing up and took credit for a product that he never worked on, the film’s insistence on not acknowledging this controversy can’t help but feel … Well, icky.
At Least The Chips Are Good
But “Flamin’ Hot” is intended to be a crowdpleaser, and when it hits Hulu this June, it’ll transform Montanez’s self-mythologizing into fact for countless people, who will buy the film’s narrative at face value. So, we return to the big question: does the truth matter if the movie itself is good? But “Flamin’ Hot” isn’t good, embracing cliches like long-lost lovers and shouting its messages to cheap seats without hesitation.
It’s a well-intentioned movie, one made by folks who clearly care about Hispanic/Latino representation and take pride in the fact that their culture has genuinely shifted the taste of an entire nation (once again: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are f***ing delicious). But it’s also one that hasn’t met a cliche it didn’t love, or a tired gag that goes for the easy laugh. (One moment, which showcases a corporate team trying to invent their own spicy chip snack, transforms the actual team that created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a footnote; a joke).
The very idea of a biopic about a guy who claimed to invent a hot Cheeto feels like a gag, but it could’ve sidestepped all of that by avoiding the usual biopic cliches. But “Flamin’ Hot” leans into them with an aggressiveness that makes “Bohemian Rhapsody” look like “I’m Not There.” It would be insulting if it wasn’t so tired.
But Flamin Hot Cheetos? F***ing delicious.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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The post Flamin’ Hot Review: Spicy Cheetos Get the Biopic They Don’t Deserve appeared first on /Film.
/Film – Flamin’ Hot Review: Spicy Cheetos Get The Biopic They Don’t Deserve
Author: Jacob Hall
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March 12, 2023