On the plus side, Renee Zellweger wearing a head scarf as a Hasidic woman in A Price Above Rubies (Miramax) is a less meshuggeneh sight than Melanie Griffith wearing a head scarf in A Stranger Among Us. On the minus side, without Griffith's pleasing unlikeliness, this addled drama about a woman burning with suppressed sexuality demonstrates little reason to be set among the faithful, short of the promotional value from those protesting what they perceive as a rude depiction of Hasidism. Besides, writer-director Boaz Yakin (Fresh) has said, ingenuously, that the story is ''really adaptable to any time, any place. For any patriarchal society...the mysteries of women and the power of their sexuality are feared.''
So why drag a character clearly meant to suggest the late Lubavitcher spiritual leader, Menachem Schneerson, into this nonsense, which is actually closer in spirit to Up the Sandbox than to The Chosen? In Yakin's fantasy, misfit Sonia (Zellweger) chafes in the role of wife and mother. Her husband (Glenn Fitzgerald) is terrified of sex and prefers the company of praying men. Her brother-in-law (Jude's Christopher Eccleston and what's with this nutty casting?) gives her some freedom as a jewelry buyer; he also rapes her. Only when Sonia discovers sexy Otherness with a Puerto Rican artist (Allen Payne) does she find fulfillment.
Rubies, which takes its title from a biblical proverb, costars Julianna Margulies as Sonia's better-adjusted sister-in-law. It also features the ghost of Sonia's dead brother (Shelton Dane), and a mysterious beggar woman (Kathleen Chalfant). With the supernatural to back him, Yakin may have thought he was in league with Isaac Bashevis Singer. In fact, he's more in tune with Bart Simpson, making mischief and shrugging, ''Don't have a kosher cow, man.'' C- -- LS
A Price Above Rubies STARRING Renee Zellweger Christopher Eccleston RATED R 120 MINUTES