Like just about everybody these days, Hollywood is tightening its belt to weather the economic downturn, which basically translates to cutting loose any and every project that is not a guaranteed cash-cow, or doesn’t seem likely to strike gold.

Well, Sony Chairman Amy Pascal is flexing her executive muscle and showing that she isn’t afraid to make the hard choices for the (perceived) good of the studio: Pascal has pulled the plug on Moneyball, an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ baseball bestseller, starring $uperstar leading man Brad Pitt, and helmed by Ocean’s Eleven franchise director, Steven Soderbergh.

Did I mention that Pascal brought the ax down on Moneyball mere hours before the film was supposed to start shooting today??? Talk about a reality check: Pitt and Soderbergh have been big power player$ in Hollywood for at LEAST the last half decade, despite any economic turmoil that has occurred in those years.  When is the last time you think either of them (let alone both of them) got behind a project and were ready to roll, only to be told at the last minute, “Not going to happen”?

It’s easy to read a scenario like that and think: “Have the studio suits lost their minds???”

So let’s talk about: is Amy Pascal losing it or showing the kind of hard-nosed edge that keeps studios afloat during uncertain times?

According to Variety, Pascal originally backed Moneyball until Soderbergh turned in a shooting script that was something of a departure from the original script by writer Steven Zaillian. Those changes were enough for Pascal to reverse her position and swing the aforementioned ax, just when the movie was gearing up to shoot.

For those who don’t know, here is a quick synopsis of what Moneyball is all about:

The story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget, by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

Baseball fans are of course familiar with Beane’s story, and how the Oakland A’s manager arguably helped redefine how professional baseball players are ranked and measured. To me Moneyball sounds like a wonderful ESPN or HBO Sports documentary – but I can easily see how a film adaptation can be viewed as a risky venture. As Thompson on Hollywood points out, baseball films are (no pun) hit or miss and often have a hard time finding an audience overseas in countries where baseball is not a major sport. Think about it: how many Americans would run out to see a movie about the recruiting practices in professional soccer?

As for Moneyball: Pascal shouldn’t be viewed as being totally ruthless: Soderbergh will have to find a way to get the film financed if he still wants to do it – which means covering tens of millions in pre-production and script costs – or else the property returns to Sony, where Pascal will likely go with the Zaillian script she first approved, likely under the helm of a new director. Either that or the studio would simply cut its losses and shelf the project altogether. We’ll see.

Brad Pitt’s subsequent involvement with the project is anybody’s guess at this point. Depending on how much prepping he did to play the role of Billy Beane – and/or his loyalty to Soderbergh – I’d think its fair to say the actor is in an awkward position right about now.

What do you think: is Amy Pascal making a shrewd move? Or is she pissing-off two major players in Pitt and Soderbergh?

No telling at this point IF Moneyball is ever going to hit theaters, let alone when. We’ll keep you posted.

Sources: Variety & Thompson on Hollywood