Before there was George Santos, there was Richard Montañez. His story was a classic American Dream tale: In the early ’90s, the Mexican American janitor at a Frito-Lay plant reportedly took home a batch of unseasoned Cheetos, covered them in chili powder and other spices, and pitched the idea to the big boss. The rest, as they say, is history. Montañez worked his way from janitor to executive, and the product known as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—the snack so spicy it allegedly sent rapper Lil Xan to the hospital—was born.
The story was so inspiring that in 2021, a biopic about Montañez went into production, directed by Eva Longoria. But just a few days after the film was announced, the Los Angeles Times wrote an exposé that nobody saw coming, one that alleged Montañez didn’t actually invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While he did manage to work his way up the Frito-Lay corporate structure, the company firmly stated that his version of the Flamin’ Hot origin story was little more than an “urban legend.”
“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to the Times.
But the show must go on! Despite the spicy setback, Longoria’s biopic, aptly titled Flamin’ Hot, continued as planned—and the film just premiered at SXSW.
Early reviews for Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot
Deadline’s review notes that the film celebrates Montañez’s life and accomplishments—but not without injecting a healthy dose of skepticism. Apparently, the “lighthearted narration” from Montañez’s character makes it clear that everything didn’t happen exactly the way he remembers it. According to Deadline, this approach works in the film’s favor; the publication called Longoria’s directorial debut “crowd-pleasing and highly entertaining.”
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Perhaps the movie should begin with the same disclaimer as Shonda Rhimes’ hit Netflix series Inventing Anna, about scammer-turned-dinner-party-host Anna Delvey: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”
Biopics nearly always take creative liberties with their source material, so at least Longoria chose to do so in a transparent, tongue-in-cheek way. So far, the reviews seem to be overwhelmingly positive. The Hollywood Reporter called it “charming” and “utterly delightful,” and Variety compared it to Rocky.
The former Desperate Housewives star told People that the initial reactions to her debut directorial feature have her “on cloud nine.” Perhaps Longoria’s next film could explore who really invented the Cobb salad.