‘Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie’ Review: Tony Shalhoub’s Anxiety-Plagued Investigator Searches for Purpose in a Post-Pandemic World

The Emmy-winning actor returns to his iconic TV role in a movie sequel that stays true to the tone of the original series, but struggles to chart new ground

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Traylor Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford "Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie." (Peter Stranks/Peacock)

Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) — everyone’s favorite anxiety-plagued detective played by Tony Shalhoub — returns to TV in Peacock’s “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie” to solve one more case. Or as the title of the movie suggests, his last case. The world has changed immensely since we last visited Mr. Monk. But, one thing hasn’t changed. Or, to paraphrase Randy Newman’s theme song: “It’s still a jungle out there.”

In its original run, “Monk” aired a total of 125 episodes. Can this standalone movie sequel live up to its groundbreaking predecessor? Tonally, it does for the most part. But in this post-pandemic era where streaming TV rules the land, “Mr. Monk’s Last Case” feels more antiquated than progressive. Like a callback to a simpler time.

It’s been 14 years since viewers last checked in with Adrian Monk. His days as a private police homicide consultant are behind him and he’s resigned himself to a closed-off life once more. After the death of Griffin (Austin Scott), his goddaughter Molly’s (Caitlin McGee) fiancé, he’s reluctantly brought back to work to solve a new murder.

Throughout the show’s eight-season run, audiences watched as the brilliant detective grappled with his gift (or curse) of solving crimes. After his wife Trudy (Melora Hardin) was murdered in a car explosion, Adrian’s pre-existing anxiety disorder got exponentially worse. It led to him being psychologically discharged from the San Francisco Police Department, where he previously served as a homicide detective. He took on consulting work and helped the SFPD solve countless cases.

The two-part series finale found Adrian finally solving Trudy’s murder and, in the process, discovering she had a daughter named Molly whom she never had a chance to meet. With Trudy’s case closed, and a new daughter figure to devote his attention to, “Monk” ended on a high note that teased a healthier Adrian Monk — one who is happier, less anxious, and maybe even a bit open to taking a risk or two.

That’s not the Monk we find on “Mr. Monk’s Last Case.” After the pandemic hit, his mental health cratered, leaving him back at square one. With Molly’s wedding on the horizon, we find the investigator pondering his potential solitary future — and it’s not looking too bright.

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Tony Shalhoub in “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie.” (Steve Wilkie/Peacock)

When “Monk” first premiered on television in 2002, mental health wasn’t a widely discussed topic of conversation. He may have been cut from a similar cloth as Sherlock Holmes, Columbo and Hercule Poirot, but Adrian Monk’s wide-ranging fears — which there are 312, including crowds, germs, dentists, heights, sharp objects, vomiting, mushrooms, small spaces, milk, blankets and fear itself — put him in a unique category as a sleuthing hero. His odd behavioral quirks and overpowering anxieties made him an outsider who audiences could laugh at. His genius ability to piece crime puzzles together made him an underdog to root for.

Two decades later, these odd behavioral quirks have become a societal norm. It’s no coincidence that the pandemic is mentioned in the story. With issues of anxiety, antisocial behavior, fear of germs and public mistrust skyrocketing over the past few years, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge how society’s consciousness has shifted since Adrian Monk was a household name. He hasn’t changed, but we have.

There’s a moment in the movie that shows a number of people applying hand sanitizer in public. “Everybody’s you,” Molly points out. “They’re going to hate it,” Monk replies. He’s not wrong.

Molly’s pending nuptials bring Monk’s old crime-fighting gang back together. Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), lieutenant Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) and personal assistant Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard) all went their separate ways after the show ended. Is their return to town a bit convenient given the timing of Griffin’s death? Sure. But when it comes to the storytelling mechanics at work here, an event surrounding Molly — who is the one thread connecting Monk to Trudy — is the best choice to get the team back together.

It’s pretty easy to call “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie,” a nostalgia play for Peacock. And considering the whodunit resurgence, with recent releases like “Knives Out,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and the streamer’s own “Poker Face” making the fan favorite genre feel new again, checking back in with Adrian Monk feels like a no-brainer.

There’s also the fact that Tony Shalhoub was born to play Monk. After all this time away from the character (he did return for a special pandemic Zoom episode in 2020), Shalhoub doesn’t skip a step in bringing the detective’s idiosyncrasies to life. In fact, seeing the proverbial band reunited is the type of TV comfort food we love eating up.

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Tony Shalhoub (left) and Melora Hardin in “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie.” (Steve Wilkie/Peacock)

While it delved into dark subject matter from time to time, “Monk” was never really a high-stakes crime procedural. This new movie, for the most part, follows that tonal pattern.

Solving Trudy’s murder is no longer the driving factor that keeps Monk moving forward. But her memory — her spirit, even — plays a part in keeping Adrian in line. Yes, that means Monk talks to a dead woman throughout the film. It’s an antiquated plot device, but it gets the movie’s overlying message across: Now that her case has been solved and everyone else has moved on, what purpose does Adrian Monk have in a post-pandemic world?

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Monk’s mental health is not in a good spot. Let’s just say that while society has progressed in talking openly about dealing with depression, anxiety, and overall mental wellness, there are moments where “Mr. Monk’s Last Case” fails in its attempts to comment on these heavy subject matters. There’s a balancing act that’s required here. But addressing the serious stuff while also giving the audience a buffet of wacky hijinks and murder solving leaves the scales tipped a bit in the wrong direction here. It all comes to a head in the film’s climax, which feels more worthy of an eye roll than an applause.

Slow progress is still progress, though. When all is said and done, Monk solves the case and gets the bad guy. More importantly, he finally faces some personal demons regarding his value in the world. His ability to solve crimes is intrinsically linked to his mental illness, and that’s OK.

When “Monk” first hit the airwaves, he was presented as an awkward outsider who was a little bit crazy. Two decades later, we can all relate a bit to Adrian Monk. He may even be the perfect sleuth for the post-pandemic jungle we’re living in. Is this case truly his last? One can only hope the answer is, “No.”

“Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie” premieres Friday, Dec. 8, on Peacock.

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