Apart from being perhaps the first Milwaukee noir pic, there’s nothing very distinctive about “Lady in the Box,” a reasonably taut suspenser that’s all plot and no character development — an imbalance that would play better if the story were less routine and implausible. Competent but forgettable exercise looks headed for vidsville.
Jerry (Darren E. Burrows) needs a lucky break, with business at his dockside saloon dismal and new g.f. Jill (Paige Rowland) no cheap date. After sneering first-time customer Doug (Mark Sheppard) bilks him out of the cash register’s contents, Jerry agrees to dump a steamer trunk — contents unexplained — in Lake Michigan for $500. He returns home to find blood all over and Jill missing. Uh-oh. Rather than call the cops, Jerry cleans up the evidence, promptly getting blackmailed by Doug into further incriminating deeds. Jill is such an obvious femme fatale that her resurface is no surprise; Doug makes an equally rote co-conspirator, while Jerry and pal Chris (Robert Kneppler) are just nice guys in a tight spot. “Ironic” ending is more convenient than credible. Director Christian Otjen builds OK atmosphere on modest means, but his script is strictly noir-by-numbers.