I wasn’t the only one who said Cats doesn’t absolutely blow chunks. My words — “It’s not altogether awful…some of it is okay…I didn’t completely hate it” — were semi-echoed by a line from Us Weekly‘s Mara Reinstein, to wit: “I realize ‘It’s not that bad!’ won’t be used in the Cats advertising campaign, but it’s worth noting that the peculiar musical does indeed have merit.”

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s G. Allen Johnson hopped on the same train when he said that the otherwise “bland” musical “has its moments of catnip.”

To the best of my recollection, the first widely-repeated endorsement along these lines happened 24 years ago with Kevin Costner‘s (and to a lesser extent Kevin Reynolds‘) Waterworld. Just after an earlybird junket Joe Leydon was quoted by a USA Today reporter as saying “it doesn’t suck.”

After sitting through Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers seven and two-thirds years ago I wrote that while it’s “corporate CG piss in a gleaming silver bucket”, I didn’t exactly hate it, and that I agreed with MCN’s David Poland that “it doesn’t suck.” Key declaration: “I looked at my watch only once, and that says something, I guess.”

Three years ago I wrote that Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk wasn’t a good film “in an audaciously original, blow-your-socks-off way” but that it “gradually sinks in and delivers.” Which sounded like an amiable cousin of “it doesn’t blow…it’s half okay.”

11 and 1/2 years ago I wrote that I “didn’t hate” Peter Segal and Steve Carell‘s Get Smart remake. “I was expecting it to be awful and it’s not,” I explained. “It is, however, a little dreary to sit through. Okay, more than a little. But despite the depressing atmosphere of surrender to corporate attitude and authorship in every corner of it, Carell‘s Maxwell Smart is half-appealing. He half-creates his own guy and half-channels Don Adams.”

What other films have been…well, given a semblance of a pass in this fashion?

Incidentally: “Not that bad” isn’t the same as “not half bad,” which is mostly a kind of compliment. HE definition: “Not without an issue or two but more than I expected and a better-than-average film overall.” Examples of “not half bad” films — American Made, Stan and Ollie, Hope Springs, Deepwater Horizon, Darth by Darthwest.