(director: Hiro Murai; screenwriters: Stephen Glover/story: Donald Glover, Stephen Glover, Ibra Ake, Jamal Olori, Fam Udeorji; cinematographer: Christian Sprenger; editors: Isaac Magy; music: Michael Uzowuru; cast: Donald Glover (Deni Maroon), Rihanna (Kofi Novia), Nonso Anozie (Red Cargo), Letitia Wright (Yara Love), Betiza Bistmark Calderón (Emani Dune), Yansel Alberto Monagas Pérez (Fruit Lady), Ayensi Amilcar Jardines Delgado (Dodo), Karla Talía Pino Piloto (Zoila), Daniel Amat Rodriguez (Man at concert); Runtime: 55; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Donald Glover, Fam Udeorji, Carmen Cuba, Jennifer Roth; Amazon Studios; 2019)

“It never fully works as a film that believes art can topple tyranny, but is nevertheless charming, musically festive and visually soothing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A basically plotless but symbolic juicy tropical thriller filmed in Cuba and directed by Hiro Murai (“Childish Gambino”/”some of the Atlanta TV series from 2016-2018”), that runs for only 55-minutes. Unfortunately it never fully works as a film that believes that art can topple tyranny, but is nevertheless charming, musically festive and visually soothing.

Singer co-star Rihanna does not sing a single song, which wastes her real talent. It’s a made-up Caribbean history story that is too shallow for comfort. The story is created by Donald Glover and his brother Stephen. Reportedly it was inspired by Prince’s Purple Rain and Fernando Meirelles’s favela-set crime film City of God.Deni Maroon (Donald Glover) is the Guava Island (a fictional place) radio singer planning to make a killing over sponsoring an all-night music festival, but is frustrated in his efforts by the island’s criminal despot Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie). He is the enforcer for the bosses of the factory workers. Rihanna, a bad actress, plays Deni’s attractive and supportive island girlfriend. In all probability Guava Island played better at the music festival in Indio (where Glover performed as his musical alter-ego Childish Gambino). Here there is not enough music to be a music video or enough drama to get over as a feature film.

It works best as a pleasant concept film engaging in art and ideas, but a film that starts off promising with a five-minute animated sequence narrated in a fairytale-like voiceover by Rihanna, who delivers the island’s sad history of being corrupted by the combination of capitalism and avarice. But its early promise is never fully realized, as instead we wind up with an undeveloped film that can’t fully spit out what it’s trying to say about artists being martyrs for creativity.The film’s centerpiece is Glover’s Grammy-winning record, which is reworked as a playful song for the abused factory workers to rally around as their anthem for freedom and riches. This supports the film’s morality angle, but its flimsy narrative doesn’t give it much heft.