Flamin’ Hot REVIEW – All Heat & No Sizzle

It will make you go out and buy a bag of flamin' hot cheetos though.

Flamin' Hot
Flamin' Hot

Flamin’ Hot is essentially a story about the American dream. If you work hard enough and are hungry enough, success can be yours. While I love underdog stories and feel-good movies like this, ironically the movie itself isn’t keen to know these characters beyond their surface motivations. By the end of the movie, you will know the story, but the characters feel strangely paper-thin.

Flamin’ Hot begins with Richard’s (Jesse Garcia) childhood, and his first entrepreneurial efforts when he sold burritos to his white, racist, bologna-loving schoolmates. Being Mexican-American, Richard was an outsider in school, and eventually moved into a life of crime when he got older. When his girlfriend Judy (Annie Gonzalez) gets pregnant, the pair realise that they can’t continue down this path any longer, and so they abandon the gang life for more legitimate lines of work. While Judy manages to find work, it’s harder for Richard, who dropped out and never got his high school diploma. Finally, after ardent promises that he will work hard, he lands a job at Frito Lay as a janitor.

Based on the company’s hierarchy, with the white men on top and minorities taking the jobs at the bottom, it’s clear to see the systemic injustices that play out not only in Frito Lay but everywhere in America. But Richard is not deterred, eager to learn and do what he can to break the glass ceiling. He befriends Clarence (Dennis Haysbert), a black engineer who’s the most skilled man in the place, to learn how the machines work and hopefully land himself a machinist job in the future.

Garcia plays Richard with confidence and charisma, and his narration throughout the film does add spark and levity. Richard and Judy’s relationship is the heart of the movie. It is Judy’s belief in him that helps propel him forward, and one can’t help but reflect how different his journey might have been if institutions and his family had more faith in him too. Considering how central this relationship is to the narrative, I do wish we got to see more of how the relationship developed. Instead, we get a flashforward that skips over everything that happened in-between.

As everyone suffers through the era of Reaganomics, Richard and his coworkers worry about their jobs as talks of a possible plant closure begin circulating. This is when Richard comes up with the idea of adding spice to Frito Lay’s snacks. He realises that the Latin American community is an underserved, untapped market. They too buy snacks, and it would be beneficial to the company to create something that appeals to their taste buds. Richard soon discovers that he will need to go directly to the head honcho of the company if he wants his ideas to be heard, since his white supervisor is quick to shut him down and tell him to toe the line of the status quo.

What holds the film back is its aggressive need to be a crowd pleaser. It’s so eager to sandpaper away all the hard edges that it brushes over issues like poverty, racism and domestic violence. We learn that Richard’s strained relationship with his father is due to his previous alcoholism and the abuse he suffered at his hands. A deeper insight into this relationship would allow us to understand Richard a little more, but much like all the contentious issues the film deals with, it’s merely glossed over. Instead, the film seems intent to convince us that a very good idea and help from the community can help you surmount any obstacles.

Yes, real life is messy, and an exact copy wouldn’t make a good film, but at some point, Flamin’ Hot becomes too Hollywood and not real enough, which is a real shame.

Review screener provided.

READ NEXT: Make the Case: 5 (Reasonably) “Feel-Good” Movies

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

Flamin' Hot
Flamin' Hot is a feel-good film with an empowering message. But it tips too much into the glossy-only-in-Hollywood side of things that it ends up feeling a tad manufactured.