You know when you're obsessively assembling a puzzle during a pandemic and you gradually accumulate chunks of joined parts of the puzzle but yet they don't fit together into a whole? That's exactly what watching "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" feels like.

The movie skips past sequences that would explain how we got from one picturesque locale to another or why someone who was a bad guy in the last scene is suddenly good, but individual moments are fun. The eye-popping views of sun-drenched Italian locations such as Tuscany, Portofino and Capri are better than a Rick Steves rerun. And there are several actors you'll probably be delighted to see — Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman — who work to their strengths.

Those top names are both the movie's biggest asset (because they're all capable of making the material sound better than it is) and its biggest weakness (because you know exactly what all of them, with the possible exception of Banderas, are going to do the minute you see them).

There's a sense that the sequel was rushed into production to capitalize on the unexpected success of its less-wordily titled predecessor, "The Hitman's Bodyguard," with no time to work out a script. Instead, it leans hard on the idea that we will enjoy seeing these performers do the thing they're best known for. Reynolds whips off self-deprecating wisecracks. Jackson is tough and sarcastic. Hayek is feisty. Freeman is authoritative and a bit secretive.

Best of the bunch is Banderas, who seems to be using this movie as an audition to play a Bond villain (he'd be great, BTW). He's improbably witty, making use of his elegant Spanish accent — although his character is supposed to be Greek — to turn a tedious reference to the Goldie Hawn movie "Overboard" into something hilarious, simply because he commits to it with so much élan.

To the extent that there is one, the plot finds Reynolds licking his wounds on a vacation in Italy, after being kicked out of the international governing body for bodyguards. He has given up the business but, of course, gets pulled back in when his old employer, Jackson's titular hitman, shows up, along with his titular wife. Lots of people shoot at but never hit them, while they shoot back with great success. It's not clear what the bad guys want (Hayek, maybe?), which means the stakes are pretty low.

In many scenes, director Patrick Hughes ("The Expendables 3") manages to turn those low stakes into a positive. At its most amusing, "Bodyguard" feels like a decent placeholder for the Bond movie that's on the way in October: 90 minutes with handsome people dodging gunfire and making evil plans in handsome places that it would be swell to visit someday.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rating: R for nonstop violence and strong language.

Theater: Wide release.