SXSW Film Review: “Flamin’ Hot” Cheetos Biopic May Not Be True, But It’s Still Full of Flavor

Inspirational and aspirational, Flamin’ Hot from Searchlight Pictures tells the story behind the popular snack food Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The feature directorial debut of Eva Longoria, Flamin’ Hot is a funny and heartwarming story of a man doing everything within his power to provide for his family. And while nothing you see on screen may be historically accurate, the film is literal comfort food, lifting your spirits and making you hungry in the process. It was warmly received by the crowd at SXSW, where it had its world premiere.

(Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

(Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

Told from the perspective of Richard Montañez (Jess Garcia), the film follows the struggling husband and father with a criminal record as he begins a janitorial job at Frito-Lay in the 1980s. When the company gets into financial trouble and begins layoffs, Richard comes up with an idea to save his plant, working with his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) to create a spice blend that will tap into the Mexican-American market. He takes a gamble when he submits his creation to CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub). Will it pay off?

If you’ve been to a mini-mart in the past three decades, you know that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are a thing. The general plot of Flamin’ Hot isn’t what hooks you, it’s the great characters, wonderful performances, and visual inventiveness of the project. Jess Garcia and Annie Gonzalez are delightful in the role as a loving and supportive couple. And Dennis Haysbert steals many scenes as Richard’s mentor Clarence C. Baker, an engineer at the plant.

Eva Longoria strikes a unique visual tone with Flamin’ Hot. In one moment that depicts the passage of time, she inventively implements boxes of products moving through the warehouse marked with the year. It’s one of those esthetically satisfying moments that you expect to go viral. The film is also a nostalgic time capsule of now-vintage product packaging and corporate logos.

The biggest problem with Flamin’ Hot is the authenticity of the source material, which seems to be inauthentic. The LA Times broke the story in 2021 that Richard Montañez’s story, widely circulated in public speaking engagements and published in the film’s source material (A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie: from Janitor to Executive), isn’t exactly true. While he was a pioneering marketer within the Hispanic community, there is lots of evidence to suggest that when it comes to the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the story is a lot less exciting. It would be like seeing a biopic about the founders of Post-Its starring Romy White and Michele Weinberger. Still, the job of a marketer is to tap into your mind and heart, both of which this story and film succeed at.

I give Flamin’ Hot 4 out of 5 red-dusted fingers.

Flamin’ Hot will stream on Hulu beginning June 9th.

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