Promising Anglo-Italo helmer Roan Johnson makes his debut with the tonally uneven period dramedy “The First on the List.” Set in 1970, when Italy was roiled by terrorism, the pic is based on the true story of three feckless lefties who fled across the Austrian border thinking a military coup was imminent. Johnson nicely captures the swirling paranoia of the time, grounding it in an all-too-forgotten reality, but he posits these guys as genial idiots and, while occasionally amusing, their foolishness wears thin. “First” could be a respectable entry for Italo showcases, though home biz has been disappointing.
A montage of footage chronicling terrorist plots from the period leads up to 1970, when students Renzo Lulli (Francesco Turbanti, likable) and Fabio Gismondi (Paolo Cioni) are persuaded by left-wing balladeer Pino Masi (Claudio Santamaria) that a coup is nigh. Under Masi’s spell, the three crash the Austrian frontier seeking political asylum and wind up in jail, looking very stupid. Since auds know Italy wasn’t taken over, there’s no tension, and the prison scenes are overstretched. Johnson works a nice indie vibe that would be better served by different material.