About halfway through Eva Longoria’s aggressively well-meaning directorial debut, Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), then janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in southern California, is again confronted with the unhappy truths of racism. With tears brimming like a subject of those drippy paintings once sold in Woolworths, his son repeats a racial epithet to plaintively ask, “Mommy, what’s a w*tback?”
Such things happen all too often in the real world. But the broad sentimentality of Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez’s screenplay – not to mention its barely qualified devotion to the corporate ideal – betrays the potential for a properly pungent take on American pipe dreams.
I regret to inform you that, after Tetris and Air, and with Beanie Babies and Pop-Tart films still to come, we are looking at yet another addition to the brand-licking genre. Longoria’s own brandopic tells the (much-disputed) story of the spirited Mexican-American man who helped invent Frito-Lay’s Flamin’ Hot line of corn snacks. In this version of the truth, Montañez felt the company was ignoring the spicier tastes of Latino communities and, after devising his own flavouring, successfully pitched the product to PepsiCo’s chief executive, Roger Enrico.
Flamin’ Hot has its share of corporate drones looking down their noses at the uppity janitor, but anyone expecting an evisceration of the snack-food industry needs to look elsewhere. Enrico (played with typical sideways charm by Tony Shalhoub) is represented as the sort of stand-up guy – to be fair, the late chief executive was from working-class Italian origins – who can see past prejudice to the can-do spirit within. “He may not know about market share,” Enrico says to his lickspittles. “But he knows about people.”
The film draws charming-enough performances from Garcia and, better still, from Annie Gonzalez, playing Montañez’s wife – the sort of turns you would admire in a superior family sitcom from the 1980s – as we drift towards an implausibly merry accommodation with the millennial version of the American dream. Flamin’ Hot does have its properly spiky moments. Early on, remembering his childhood, Montañez remarks: “My playground was everyone else’s labour camp.” But one yearns in vain for some acknowledgment that the creation being celebrated is nothing more than a bag of squashed organic matter coated in a modestly spicy mulch. (The shots of consumers fanning their mouths greatly oversell its piquancy.) It is hard to imagine any Irish or British film indulging in this level of unquestioning brand worship. Even Mr Tayto has his guilty secrets.
Streaming on Disney+