SXSW 2023: “Flamin’ Hot” Review
The following is part of our coverage of SXSW 2023. For more, click here.
The Flamin’ Hot line of products, especially the Cheetos, is legendary. Taking a well-known product and reintroducing it is no small fair, and the Flamin’ Hot line’s young but brilliant legacy is a testament to Richard Montañez’s ingenuity. Now when it comes to Flamin’ Hot, Eva Longoria’s adaptation of the inception of the Flamin’ Hot line, it’s nowhere near as brilliant. The SXSW premiere had a welcome emphasis on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the production of this movie. Unfortunately, that is the only thing it truly gets right. A story full of ideas pertaining to inclusion, generational trauma, and fear that refuses to come alive because the script has as much air as a bag of chips.
With her first directed narrative feature film, Longoria takes a page out of Edgar Wright’s book of snappy pacing. The first half packs itself with quick shots, complemented by great editing that runs through its ideas at a mile a minute. But as soon as we get into the second half, it maintains its momentous direction at the expense of critical story beats. A moment that pertains to Richard and his father falls flat because of a lack of introspection on the main character’s part.
Which leads into my next gripe, the characterization is not all there. A movie like this needed more vulnerability and the only characters that really landed were Annie Gonzalez and Dennis Haysbert’s characters. Meanwhile, Jesse Garcia’s portrayal of Richard Montañez suffocates under TED Talk levels of preachiness. Flamin’ Hot had the opportunity to make Richard Montañez feel like a real person, but the writing makes him come off as a speaker and not personable. Which is sad, because Jesse Garcia delivers an otherwise charismatic performance.
But worst of all, Flamin’ Hot‘s fatal flaw is that it has promise. Promise to be something brilliant if done right. Then what we get is so surface level, it seems as if it’s more interested in easy wins. The topics being discussed are challenging to look at square in the face. But it never takes the effort to dig deep and say something about those ideas. Rather just a box to check off to show what Richard the person went through. I doubt Richard Montañez the person is this shallow and uninspiring, but Richard Montañez in Flamin’ Hot is so Hallmark-ly written.
With all of this said, it is an easy watch. The only reason I don’t outright loathe this movie is that it is a nice and breezy 99 minutes. There is an audience for this, and at the premiere at SXSW, there were plenty of people affected by it. Which is ok, this movie may just not be for me. But it’s upsetting that a movie that simplified a potentially dense narrative will get a pass and possibly be memed to oblivion if it catches fire.
Longoria and the cast and crew have amazing potential. But I don’t think it all came together with this movie. Longoria’s documentary feature, La Guerra Civil, was nice and crisp and gave us the full depth of scope. Flamin’ Hot, on the other hand, is just a CODA-esque, people-pleasing affair. If Longoria goes on to make more movies like this, I hope she gets her audience. But until she makes a satisfying one, I don’t see myself returning to another one of these.
The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a staple here in my state of Texas, and I admire it deeply. I wanted to come out liking this movie, for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’ sake, but it just didn’t work. This will premiere on Hulu, and there’s a chance it could fall to obscurity. I hope that isn’t the case, because there’s an audience here and one that will champion it. But sadly that won’t include me. – Jacob Mauceri
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