Who and what to blame for the crippled economy, all the lost jobs and homes and dreams? "The Company Men," about downsizing at a giant manufacturing concern, doesn't provide any clearer answers than the professional apoplectics on cable television. The film strives to be a thoughtful, evenhanded drama but ends up shooting only the easiest targets.

The title refers to three executives at GTX, a multinational something-or-other that is shedding jobs even while building new headquarters. Chopped by the ax are middle-manager Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), upper-floor fixture Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and, even higher exec, co-founder Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones).

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It's a lopsided cross-section of high-earners - the cheapest car anyone drives is a Porsche - yet the film has the gall to make a villain of GTX top-dog James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson). When Salinger complains about shareholder losses, McClary snidely points to a hanging canvas: "Then sell the Degas, eh?" Touché, except that McClary lives on an estate the size of Liechtenstein.

John Wells, a producer of the NBC shows "The West Wing" and "ER," makes his directorial debut here with his own script, but he's still thinking small screen. Everything is pat, from the stereotyped characters (Kevin Costner plays the noble blue-collar worker) to the obvious plot turns. McClary's moist-eyed monologue about a time "before we got lost in paperwork and cost reports" beggars belief - were there unicorns, then, too?

The implausible, upbeat ending makes the film feel like some kind of pilot for a TV series. You can almost see the "timely" episodes and "topical" themes all neatly wrapped up before the commercial break.