ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
There have been many documentaries and biopics I’ve watched and enjoyed throughout the years, and I’m always curious to learn about people and the more behind-the-scenes stuff on how things come about and get created.
So when I heard recently about such a film being released about the popular snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and its apparent creator, I admit my eyebrow raised a bit because quite frankly, how interesting could the origin story of a snack chip actually be? Well, if you take the word of the recently released “Flamin’ Hot,” it’s apparently VERY interesting. The movie is based on the memoir “A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive” by Richard Montañez, and on the life stories of Montañez and his wife, Judy, the former who claimed to have invented "Flamin' Hot Cheetos."
To begin with, the movie has a lot of humor throughout, and there are multiple moments that made me laugh right out loud, particularly a few scenes where Richard imagines how conversations go between the higher-ups at Frito-Lay, which reminded me of the scenes in Marvel’s “Ant-Man” films when Luis’ character takes over the narration. The comedic timing in those scenes is done very well and done in such a way that it’s not completely over the top. Another scene I thought was particularly amusing came near the beginning when Richard’s fellow co-worker, Tony, introduces him to the different cliques at the Frito-Lay plant in a rather “Mean Girls”-esque way. So while overall not billed as a comedy movie, there are definitely plenty of moments that will elicit laughs.
I also enjoyed the cast in the movie and thought everyone did a great job. Jesse Garcia is fantastic in the lead role as Richard Montañez and does a great job showing Richard’s enthusiasm and willingness to learn about how the factory works (somewhat to the annoyance of his supervisor) as well as his stress and darker moments where he wonders how things will turn out and whether or not he’ll be able to support his family. Especially at the beginning of his job, Richard is EXACTLY like every new employee at a bigger company who’s maybe a little too peppy, but the movie also shows him maturing a little bit as he learns the ropes. I also VERY much enjoyed Annie Gonzalez as Richard’s wife, Judy, and I would definitely consider her a scene-stealer. She does a great job portraying Judy’s support of Richard throughout the snack development process but also isn’t afraid to give him a kick in the pants during the moments he needs it – as Richard’s offscreen narration so wisely says near the end of the movie, “When life gets tough, get yourself a Judy to get you through.” I also enjoyed Dennis Haysbert as Richard’s mentor, Clarence Baker, and gives him a bit of development throughout as he starts off being extremely annoyed by all of Richard’s questions and comes to respect him as a fellow employee and help him aim higher – it’s rather subtle throughout, but it’s still nice to watch. Tony Shaloub is also enjoyable as Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico, who makes it clear to his fellow Frito-Lay executives he actually cares about the people working for him and not so much the investors. With certain corporate CEOs in the news lately outright acting like comic book villains, it was refreshing to see one who seemingly legitimately cared about people before profits.
Something else I noticed about the movie was how, in a way, it captures the immigrant experience faced by everyone who makes their way to the U.S., including the bullying/racism faced for simply being different, struggling with the immigration process, trying to find ways to support one’s family through low-end jobs, and everything else. While Montañez’s story is obviously unique to his own experiences, I guarantee there’s at least a small portion where people will relate to and say “Yep, I know how THAT feels.” And in another odd bit of a twist, the movie is as much of a story about the “snack wars” as it is an economic history lesson, as much of the story takes place in the 1980s during the Reagan years and shows how things weren’t quite so solid economically throughout the U.S. and a lot of people needed some extra help.
I also very much enjoyed the 1980s and 1990s tone and feel throughout the movie, and the scene where Richard officially makes his pitch took me straight back to elementary school with the use of the projector being used. It doesn’t really affect the movie in any way, but it was something I rather enjoyed seeing.
While I enjoyed the movie overall, there were a few aspects that could have been improved on. I felt like the movie could have dove a little deeper into the struggles that were faced when Richard is trying to launch the snack – not that it necessarily needed to be pounded out for viewers, but I feel like diving a little deeper into that would’ve elevated the movie, because the movie makes it seem like everything came just so quickly and easily, perhaps a little too much so. And because it’s Hollywood and creative liberties are taken, the movie veers rather dangerously into the usual corniness and clichés seen in similar biopics – it’s not so bad that it overwhelms the overall tone, but that’s something else that definitely could have been worked on.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by “Flamin’ Hot” and would give it a “B” grade. The cast performances are great, and the movie manages to balance humor and heart throughout. However, I feel like there could have been some improvements with the writing to help elevate it above the standard biopic tropes. If you’re a fan of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy this movie about its apparent creator. The movie is available on Disney+.