Available on Disney+ and Hulu (June 2022)
First Impression: A solid directorial debut from Eva Longoria, who brings to life
the rags-to-riches story of Richard Montañez, the man who introduced the world to the signature flavor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
When we go to the grocery store and look around the chip aisle, they’re almost impossible to miss. The “flamin’ hot” brand from Frito-Lay has become both famous and iconic not only in the United States and Mexico, but around the world.
The snack is popular with young kids, adults, and senior citizens alike. In fact, you may have a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos in your cupboards or in your car as a guilty-pleasure go-to snack as we speak. The “flamin’ hot” name is so popular, it’s valued as a billion-dollar brand. Now let’s get to the story of the man who made this snack possible.
Eva Longoria, in her directorial debut, gives us a heartwarming “never say die” movie about Richard (Garcia) Montañez, a California Chicano who had a tough childhood and an even tougher adolescence. In an early sequence, we see how as a young kid, he has a knack for sales and entrepreneurship; selling burritos to peers in his elementary school. Montañez had a difficult home life, with an abusive father who made him believe he would never amount to anything.
As the movie plays out, he grows into a young Chicano who is racially profiled, and seen by others only as a criminal. He becomes dejected and untrusting of authority figures. Montañez keeps this mentality into his 20s. He makes no excuses and owns up to the fact that he committed crimes and was a gangbanger.
This all starts to change when his girlfriend (and future wife) Judy, played by newcomer Annie Gonzalez, tells Richard she’s pregnant, which forces him to start pondering what kind of life he wants for his future children. With the help of Judy, Richard eventually gets a job at his local Frito-Lay plant as an assistant janitor.
While working at Frito-Lay, Montañez is entranced by the process of making Cheetos. Fellow Chicanos try to discourage him from pursuing his curiosity, but he eventually finds comradery with an African American Frito-Lay engineer named Clarence, who gives him a chance.
Montañez envisions a world where Cheetos might also appeal to Chicanos, with the addition of a familiar chile zing. After trial and error, he and his family finally create a delish and spicy snack. He presents the snack to the CEO and even higher-ups in the company, but not having faith in his product, he shares samples of his snack through grassroots marketing. Eventually, Montañez is recognized for his vision, and is promoted to Vice President of Multicultural Sales & Community Promotions.
This film is a welcome addition to my Mexican-American films of our generation, which include “La Bamba,” “Selena,” “Stand and Deliver,” and “A Better Life.” These movies show the power, grit, and determination of Latinos and Latinas who refuse to let their dreams and ambitions die.