Underdog, feel good and controversial are just a few of the descriptions that tag the new Hulu film “Flamin’ Hot.” While reviews of the production, including Rotten Tomatoes, have been excellent, the Los Angeles Times slammed it as being “littered with inaccuracies.” I guess that statement depends on who you ask. But for Latino communities from coast to coast, the movie is a symbol of pride in more ways than one.
The plot of “Flamin’ Hot” is centered around the life story of Richard Montañez, a former janitor with Frito-Lay who rose to the position of sales executive due to his invention of the popular Cheetos snack. At least that’s the yarn he spins. Actress and TV personality Eva Longoria pushed to make her debut as director of the film because, “I need to tell people what Chicano is.”
Longoria helped assemble a majority Hispanic cast that includes the talented Jesse Garcia (Quinceañera, The Avengers) in the leading role as Montañez. Bobby Soto (The Tax Collector, Narcos: Mexico) is Richard’s sidekick fellow employee, while stand-up comedian/TV veteran Emilio Rivera (NYPD Blue, Law and Order) plays Vacho, Richard’s immigrant father. Also in the mix are child actors Brice Gonzalez (Lopez vs. Lopez) and Carlos Solorzano Jr. (The Black Demon). The kids are hilarious who wildly approve the product taste test, and the film itself provides continuous comical entertainment. Yet despite some of its critics, the movie gives you that warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment, like somebody who hit a home run against all odds.
It all started out with an idea Montañez had to spice some of Frito-Lay snacks, Mexican style. As the story goes, Richard brought home a garbage bag full of bland tortilla chips and his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) turned their kitchen into a test station. A bunch of tomatoes, onions, chiles and chile powder later, Montanez knew he had a winning recipe and cold called company big shot Roger Enrico, who headed up parent company Pepsi-Co in 1991. That’s when the waters get muddy. Frito-Lay claims that the hot Cheetos were test marketed months earlier in three mid-western states. But the company later admitted that Montañez was instrumental in product development for Frito-Lay’s subsidiary Saborsitas, which makes Flamin’ Hot popcorn plus Lime and Flamin’ Hot Fritos. And by all accounts, Montañez, now retired after 40 years with Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Co, is considered the godfather of Hispanic marketing.
“The film was never about the story of Cheetos,” says director Longoria. “It was the story of Richard Montañez from his point of view.”