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Flamin’ Hot (2023) review: A spicy story with mild truth

Flamin’ Hot is a biopic that seeks not to revolutionize the genre but rather tell a story, even if the tale is a bit embellished, to say the least. Based on his memoir, the 2023 biopic follows Richard Montañez, played by Jesse Garcia, and the trials and tribulations that he had to face on his journey to fame.

From rags-to-riches

Montañez is just a Mexican American living through a time when Mexicans were absurdly oppressed, with society pushing them into gang arms or off to war to be fodder in the US army. For a while, he fit that stereotype — joining a gang to make ends meet alongside his school-sweet-heart-turned-wife, Judy, played by Annie Gonzalez, but eventually realizing he needs a real job to support himself, his wife, and his growing family, with the only company willing to take the high school dropout Montañez being Frito-Lay as a janitor. 

He didn’t want to always be the one cleaning the floors, though, he dreamed of more — he wanted to be a mechanist for the plant. But, after being snubbed too many times and economic hardships hitting the US, he had to make a choice between his dream and supporting his family. That’s when it hit him, a spicy Cheeto or Dorito or Frito to appeal to the Latino market, which was unrepresented then. His boss was no help, so he went to the higher-ups, more specifically to PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico, portrayed by Tony Shalhoub, with a product he promised to change the course of the company for good and save jobs.

This promise entices Enrico, and he wants to learn more before agreeing to make the product available for the masses, starting up a test market for the product that ended up failing miserably. Montañez takes it into his own hands with the help of his family and friends to put the spicy snack in the grasp of the Latino community.

Everything about this movie seethes the energy of a typical rags-to-riches tale while keeping it entertaining enough that you’ll feel captivated by the excellent acting by everyone from the starring role to the lowest of background characters. The music is well-timed, the narration is funny at times, and overall, it’s a great directorial debut for Eva Longoria.

“True enough”

Unfortunately, we can’t ignore one of the biggest detractors of the film — the protagonist himself. Not in the movie but rather in real life. While the story can warm the heart and lead to many people seeking their janitor to bigwig dreams, a good deal of his claims to fame may very well be fabricated.

On the evening of May 16, 2021, LA Times published an investigation that outed the embellishments Montañez pushed out there. For over a decade, he’s been speaking at events about his massive accomplishments and how he went from a lowly janitor to an executive. About how he called up the CEO of PepsiCo at the time to pitch his chile-covered product. How he dreamed up this spicy concoction.

Unfortunately for him, more than a dozen former Frito-Lay employees and the company itself speak a different story. At no point was Montañez part of the test marketing of the product. Fred Lindsay, on the other hand, was directly involved as a salesman in the South Side of Chicago, “beating the drum” for the company’s marketing department to whip something up after witnessing spicy products flying off the shelves from competitors.

Frito-Lay doesn’t minimize Montañez’s real role in the company but does clarify that he wasn’t the direct reason behind the Flamin’ Hot line of snacks. NPR further corroborated this. 

In the end, if you can look past the sorrowful fabrications, what you’re left with is a typical “based on a true story” biopic about overcoming obstacles and clawing your way to success. Flamin Hot isn’t a horrible movie, but without that extra seasoning of truth, it’s just a bland biopic with a few good jokes and some sweet moments.


Posted in Reviews