From a flop (this Saturday) to a maybe-hit (next month): It's Justin Hires' rush hour

By Mike Hughes

For Justin Hires,
this is an actor's life in overdrive – a big break, a big bust,
then a new chance.

On Saturday, his
“Rush Hour” series has its finale; it's a good one, he said. “You
get to see some real emotion from the two characters.”

Chances are, most
people will be watching the Olympics, instead. But a month later,
he'll have a supporting role in “MacGyver,” a stronger prospect.
It's “an iconic franchise (that) really fits the time period” of
8 p.m. Fridays, said CBS programmer Glenn Geller.

After the furious
pace of “Rush Hour,” Hires can take it easy. Lucas Till (Havok in
the X-Men movies) is MacGyver, the inventive hero, with George Eads
(“CSI”) being tough and Tristin Mays being tech.

That leaves Hires,
31, as the best friend and roommate “who somehow doesn't know what
I do,” Till said. “When you first meet him, he's making waffles.”

Heroes need friends;
they also need waffles. “I bring a little heart and humor to the
show,” Hires said.

That comes easily to
him. Growing up in St. Petersburg, where his mother is an area school
superintendent, Hires matched some of the traits of his dad, a hair
stylist ready to talk to anyone. “I've always been a natural

By age 9, he was
doing theater. He went on to Clark Atlanta University and stand-up
comedy. Acting jobs, however, were scarce until he got two breaks –
a supporting role in the “21 Jump Street” movie, then a starrig
one with Jon Foo in the “Rush Hour” series.

Here was a role that
Chris Tucker played in four movies. Hires had big bursts of dialog,
humor and action ... a massive undertaking. “When you add giant
explosions and car chases and gun fights and martial-arts fights, ...
it feels relentless,” producer Bill Lawrence said.

And then the show
promptly died in the ratings. Saturday's finale – Hires and Foo go
undercover among gang bosses, hoping to extricate the latter's sister
from a life of crime – may go unnoticed.

After finishing it,
Hires had a six-month dry spell, before the good news: Despite
scheduling “MacGyver,” CBS was scrapping its pilot film. Peter
Lenkov (who did the “Hawaii Five-0” reboot) would write and
produce a new one, with James Wan (“The Conjuring”) directing.
That created last-minute roles for Mays, Sandrine Holt (as the boss)
and Hires.

He'll be working in
Atlanta, where he went to college; he'll be acting without (for now,
at least) doing drastic, rush-hour stunts. “It's the best of
worlds,” Hires said. Occasioally, actors' lives turn out fine.

-- “Rush Hour”
finale, 8 p.m. Saturday, CBS

-- “MacGyver”
debut, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, also CBS