REVIEWS Julia Roberts faces the world’s end in the terrific Armageddon suspense thriller ‘Leave the World Behind’; Warm Christmas comedy cheer delivered in ‘Family Switch’ and ‘Candy Cane Lane’, one of Eddie Murphy’s best family films

Facing the apocalypse: Julia Roberts in ‘Leave the World Behind’.

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND ***1/2 (141 minutes) M
Eager for an engrossing Armageddon drama with a classy difference from all the other apocalypse-themed films that have showered upon us like fallout since the late-1990s? Then check out Leave the World Behind: it’s an absolute corker.

Sick of people in general and of a congested New York City in particular, sarcastic mother Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) persuades her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) and two teen kids (Farrah Mackenzie & Charlie Evans) to escape to a luxurious country house just beyond the city limits.

As luck would have it, just as the brood is trying to unwind the internet goes bust, depriving them of TV, streaming programs and, worst of all, their precious phones.

Cut off from the outside world, they then get a visit from the home’s owner George (Mahershala Ali) and his snarky daughter Ruth (Myha’la) who have driven back from the city in the middle of all the head-scratching chaos.

Now stuck together – with George and Ruth awkwardly sleeping in the basement of their own home – they try working out what has happened to society.

Skillfully moving matters gradually to generate tension over the true nature of the disruption to civilization, writer/director Sam Esmail (Mr Robot; The Resort) delivers a drip feed of tantalizing details pointing to the competing sources behind the latest threat to America.

Performances are terrific, with Roberts being especially interesting early on with the hint her character might have a problem with black people.

Providing strong support are Hawke (good as always) and Kevin Bacon who steps in with a pungent cameo as a diehard survivalist.

What better way to celebrate Christmas than with contemplating how it will all end?

Netflix

Eddie Murphy in the winning comedy ‘Candy Cane Lane’.

CANDY CANE LANE ***1/2 (127 minutes) PG
In one of Eddie Murphy’s best family movies, Candy Cane Lane chimes in as a warm, winning fantasy comedy in which Murphy plays stressed-out father Chris Carver who commits to taking out the neighbourhood Christmas house decorations contest to reclaim his self esteem.

While shopping with his daughter Holly (Madison Thomas) he stumbles across a magical pop-up shop run by Pepper (Jillian Bell), a cheeky, trouble-making elf who offers Chris a sneaky deal in exchange for decorations that will ensure him a big win.

Blessed with some fabulous animation as the figurines of a decorative Christmas village come to life, the film unspools as one of Eddie Murphy’s most sure-footed and satisfying comedies.

There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments with super work from a top-flight supporting ensemble, most notably Tracee Ellis Ross as the mother, Bell as the elf (her lack of interest in sports personalities is killer) and Timothy Simons & Danielle Pinnock, who are hilarious as TV commentators.

The film is an out-and-out hoot. And be sure to catch the bloopers during the closing credit crawl.

Enjoy.

Prime

The brood of ‘Family Swap’.

FAMILY SWITCH *** (106 minutes) PG
In the spirit of Freaky Friday, All of Me, 17 Again, The Change-Up, Heaven Can Wait and all the other body swap comedies over the decades, Family Switch clocks in as a very entertaining, if predictable jaunt in which a magical occurrence during a visit to an observatory results in two dorky parents (Jennifer Garner & Ed Helms) swap bodies with their teen kids (Emma Myers & Brady Noon).

As per the body swap comedy formula, the event sees the parents learn about their kids and vice versa. Inevitably, some of the revelations are embarrassing, others strengthen the family bond.

Like Candy Cane Lane, the film has been Grinched by many critics yet unfurls as a ball of fun, with the best scenes involving the swap between the family’s baby and its pet pooch.

The gags are so funny one wonders whether a whole film based solely on that premise could work quite nicely.

Fun fact: Family Switch is Jennifer Garner’s second body swap comedy, after 2004’s 13 Going on 30. Catch it on Stan. It’s very good.

Netflix