Richard Montanez was a high school dropout who started out as a janitor at Frito-Lay in 1976. At the time of his retirement in 2019, Montanez was vice president of multicultural sales and community promotions for PepsiCo North America, parent company of Frito-Lay. The kicker is that Montanez’ big claim to fame was the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. A claim that has been flagrantly disputed by reputable third-party journalists and internal PepsiCo investigations (hence Montanez’ retirement from the company).

So here’s Flamin’ Hot, in which Director Eva Longoria (Really? She’s a director now? Okay, we’ll roll with it.) dramatizes the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, unapologetically sticking with Montanez’ accounts of his life story. That said, it’s important to note that narrative voice-overs and stylized cutaway gags establish Montanez (here immortalized by Jesse Garcia) as a highly unreliable storyteller. I’m not sure that was the intended point, but here we are.

Flamin’ Hot is my least favorite kind of film to review because it aims for mediocrity and achieves its goal perfectly. It’s just okay with no aspirations of anything greater. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and no effort or desire at trying anything new. Hell, the movie opens showing Montanez as a high-roller, letting us know right up front that everything will work out and he’s going to win. The characters are cellophane, the plot follows every formulaic story beat like clockwork, and the grand thematic monologues are presented with all the subtlety of… well, of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, come to think of it.

Even the casting is uninspired. Sure, Jesse Garcia turns in a magnetic lead performance, with colossal support from Annie Gonzalez in the role of his wife. Otherwise, you’ve got Emilio Rivera as a stock disapproving father, you’ve got Matt Walsh playing an uptight milquetoast for the umpteenth time in his career, and you’ve got Tony Shalhoub playing a bland yet patronly CEO well within his established wheelhouse.

And then we’ve got Dennis Haysbert, playing the wizened mentor figure who’s stand-offish at first until he slowly agrees to take the protagonist under his wing. I might add that the character’s name is Clarence Charisma Baker. Dennis freaking Haysbert got cast as a character whose middle name is literally Charisma. Not only is that blatantly obvious casting to the point of laziness, it’s throwing up a giant red flag to tell us this character was invented for the movie.

This is a huge recurring issue through the whole movie. I get that the filmmakers wanted to be uplifting and inspirational with their underdog rags-to-riches story about how anyone can achieve greatness and change the world, representation matters, the American Dream is still within reach for anyone with the tenacity and curiosity to achieve it, and so on and so forth. That’s all well and good. And if the filmmakers wanted to make something easy and fun to watch without challenging the audience overmuch, that’s fair enough.

But when all the dialogue is over-written, the acting is all overdone, the plot glides along on rails, and when there’s so little subtlety in defining who are the good guys and bad guys, it slathers the whole film in layers of Hollywood sheen. In other words, it makes the whole movie feel artificial in a way that directly undercuts the “based on a true story” conceit, which in turn directly undercuts the authenticity of the intended message.

Flamin’ Hot landed exactly where it belongs. Anything so by-the-numbers and saccharine was never going to stand a chance at the box office this season, much less with awards voters. I’d have a difficult time recommending this for a big screen viewing, but for some quick and easy feel-good viewing on Disney+, it’s an easy pick.

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