Wait! Come back! It’s not what it sounds like!
Brand recognition is the heart of Hollywood. It’s what got us a Battleship movie, it’s the driving force behind rebooting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every few years, and it’s the impulse that will keep Jumanji sequels in theaters for as long as possible. It’s also presumably the concept that drove Fox Searchlight to purchase the rights to a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-inspired movie, in what Variety reports was a surprisingly competitive sale.
The immediate reaction to this news is entirely understandable. In a world that brought us The Emoji Movie, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a clueless Hollywood studio deciding an animated movie about crunchy cheese snacks is the best move for their bottom line. But fortunately, that’s not what Searchlight has in mind. This Cheetos movie, titled Flamin’ Hot, will focus on Richard Montanez. He was a child of immigrants who labored in Southern California for years before getting a job as a janitor at Frito-Lay, where he developed the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and eventually became known as “the Godfather of Multicultural Marketing.”
It’s easy to see how Fox Searchlight thinks this could be a valuable story to tell. In the right hands, it could be a timelier Good Will Hunting, a movie about the omnipresence of immigrant culture in American society. It could even turn into a commentary on the inherent capitalism of the American Dream, a critique of corporate branding within a movie that wouldn’t have found life without it. It’s easy to be cynical about something like this, but on the surface, it’s a movie that seems much easier to get right than something like The Lego Movie was.
Of course, it all depends on the kind of team this project attracts. Before Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher signed on, The Social Network was just “Untitled Facebook Movie,” a project that presumably would have starred seven of your aunts all posting minion memes simultaneously. Unfortunately, Aaron Sorkin is not writing the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos movie.
Currently, Lewis Colick, the writer of Charlie St. Cloud and Ladder 49, is working on a screenplay. He’s not a pick that inspires much confidence, a writer known more for weepies than he is for cutting indictments of American capitalism. Colick worked on the initial pitch with producer DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven) and Montanez himself, another iffy proposition. The best story to be told here isn’t a hagiography; who knows what a movie like Steve Jobs would look like if Jobs himself had had a hand in its production?
Still, a corporate ladder-climbing story about the child of immigrants feels like something that fits into our current political moment, a notion I’m sure Fox Searchlight agrees with. Even if the film itself doesn’t live up to the possibilities of its concept, it’s valuable to see a multicultural story that would traditionally star a white face. Whatever the Cheetos movie ends up being, at least it’ll have that going for it. Also, it’s not an animated movie about anthropomorphic Cheetos, which is always a plus.