Flamin' Hot

Flamin’ Hot has the misfortune of coming out two months after Air. Both pictures are about well-known companies that struck gold with a product that initially seemed risky – the Air Jordan sneaker and spicy Frito-Lay snacks. This is a muddled film anyway, but it pales even further in comparison to Ben Affleck’s. Rather than being smart and incisive, it packages a true story in a traditional, predictable formula. You’re left wondering what the big deal was.

Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) is trying to course-correct after several brushes with the law. The only job he can get is as a janitor at one of the Frito-Lay plants. He works there with other Latinos, all of whom recognize that they’ll never get an opportunity to join the upper echelon, which is dominated by white white-collar workers. The best someone like him can hope for is to become a machinist. To that end, he begs the top guy (Dennis Haysbert) to train him in fixing the equipment.

When sales begin to dip, threatening the future of the plant, Richard makes a Hail Mary play, cold-calling company president Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) to make a suggestion. He explains that there’s a whole cultural market being ignored, and that if Frito-Lay would add hot chili peppers to its products, sales would be astronomical. It doesn’t work out that way at first, but of course later it does, as anyone who’s ever eaten a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto knows.

An interesting business story resides in there someplace. Flamin’ Hot just can’t find it half the time. Despite some effective individual scenes, the overall professional journey of Richard Montañez is shoved into an old-fashioned Hollywood rags-to-riches narrative. It’s too pat and simplified. Significant events happen with implausible convenience. When, for example, Richard calls Roger Enrico, the CEO immediately gels to the idea, with no trepidation or concern. Could it really have happened like that? Doubtful. Even if it did, the movie contains no nuance of any sort, making it feel dubious.

Director Eva Longoria and writers Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chavez additionally rely on a couple of dumb, distracting techniques in telling the tale. First and foremost is annoying smart-ass voiceover narration from Richard. This keeps us from feeling like we get to know any of the characters. An old cinematic adage advises, “Show, don’t tell.” He tells so much that it prevents the movie from achieving depth. This is a Wikipedia synopsis of Richard Montañez’s story, not a detailed one. Just as bad are the idiotic fantasy sequences in which he imagines Frito-Lay boardroom encounters as though they’re gang wars. Again, a pointless distraction from any fascination the real-life events might contain.

Flamin’ Hot has a good performance from Jessie Garcia. He tries to overcome the script’s emptiness through the force of his personality. Dennis Haysbert is reliably good, too. Richard Montañez changed the snack business in a significant way. His journey therefore has a basic-level sense of interest. The movie succeeds in honoring the man’s ambition, yet lets him down in making his achievement seem epic.

out of four

Flamin' Hot is rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.