Snack food is subject to silly trends, but the longevity of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a triumph of food engineering and marketing. I did not know that the alarmingly red snack has a true underdog story. Flamin’ Hot tells the story of the man behind the bold flavor.
Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) and his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) struggle to make ends meet as Richard works on the maintenance crew at a Frito Lays factory. Mentored by machine engineer Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert), Richard tries to climb the ladder but finds that between the economy and other people’s prejudices, he cannot get far—until he brings an idea for a new product to Frito Lay CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub).
Flamin’ Hot had the potential to be a real one-note story about the American Dream, but it smartly approaches the subject matter with nuance and humor, putting Richard’s youth in the context of the Chicano movement and discrimination against Mexican Americans. Jesse Garcia’s voiceover infuses especially tense or charged moments with humor, balancing the serious topics with the overall fun tone. Richard’s curiosity and his love for his family also counter the humorous gangster dialogues that take place in his imagination. Finally, Richard’s interest in how powerwashers and industrial machines work endears him to the audience, making him someone to root for.
None of the acting in Flamin’ Hot deserves accolades. Everyone performs well enough not to be distracting, but the impact is a notch above classic made-for-tv. The overall production quality compensates for the performances, but Jesse Garcia also holds the focus, both in his voiceovers and in the chemistry he has with Annie Gonzalez as Judy.
Flamin’ Hot may not have the big names of Air, but if I had to watch just one movie this year about how a product got made, it would be this one. It is not just the story of corporations getting richer, but of a man who wanted himself and his community to be seen and how a spicy idea changed his life for good. Although it feels rushed in the final scenes, Flamin’ Hot delivers an aspirational narrative without taking itself or Cheetos too seriously.
Streaming on Hulu and Disney+, Flamin’ Hot was written by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez, based on the book A Boy, A Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez. It was directed by Eva Longoria, runs 99 minutes, and is rated PG-13.
A gem buried on Freevee, Jury Duty stars Ronald Gladden, a real person who thinks he is taking part in a documentary about serving on a jury but does not know that the trial is fake and everyone else is an actor playing a character, even James Marsden as himself.
The ensemble of jurors has such a fun rapport and features so many odd characters that it is hard to pick a standout. Even still, I watched Edy Modica as Jeannie closely because of her entertaining reactions. As strange inventor Todd, David Brown keeps his composure in some scenes that must have felt impossible to keep a straight face during. Cassandra Blair and Maria Russell provide grounded warmth to the oddball crew, and as the bailiff, Rashida Olayiwola makes a funny straight-man to the chaos.
The Ronald factor aside, Jury Duty resembles faux documentaries like The Office and Parks and Recreation. Most of the ridiculous plot points and physical comedy made me laugh enough on their own, but knowing that everyone except Ronald is in on the joke tipped the humor over the top. Ronald both rolls with the outrageous characters unbelievably well and also proves to be a funny, charming part of the ensemble himself. That all of the silliness was executed behind his back without the chance to do multiple takes proves the incredible planning, rehearsal, and performance that went into pulling off Jury Duty. This little series could have been nothing more than a stunt, but its hilarious celebrity character, wonderful performances, and genuinely heartwarming ending make Jury Duty one of my favorite things I’ve watched all year.
Jury Duty was created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. It runs for 8 episodes on Freevee via Amazon Prime and is rated TV-16.
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