Deciding whether a comedy is a "good movie" is a simpler task than deciding if an action film, a drama or a documentary meets the criteria to measure up to that elusive word "good." Or it is an easier thing for me to determine.
If I laugh more than six times in a modern comedy I consider it to be above average. If I laugh into double digits it gets near what can be called "good" (good being, after all, a relative term).
Bad Words resides, in this regard, somewhere close to "good." It relies on a couple specific things to do this--one is the time honored use of children and vulgarity and the other is Bateman. The former usually relies on children saying bad words but, in this case, it is grown ups saying mean, vulgar things to children. The latter, Bateman, is the more effective comedic weapon here.
This movie wants to be Bad Santa but it never gets that vulgar or that funny. I am writing this a few weeks after seeing it and I cannot actually recall any of the gags. I can remember specific funny bits for REALLY funny films like 21 Jump Street, This Is The End or The Other Guys--months or years later after a single viewing. This an amusing but ultimately forgettable film.
Likewise the film is fairly well-paced and directed. It doesn't need some unique plot twist to make it better it simply needs to be funnier. The idea of an adult competing in a kids spelling bee is full of potential and they use some of it--an adult in this competition would have a leg up if he wanted to rattle the other contestants. It never fully mines all the possible laughs here, whether out of timidity or good taste is hard to say. There are other side plots such as Bateman's relationship with a reporter that have funny moments but never seem fully realized comically.
It is difficult to write about things a movie doesn't do--but sometimes it seems so glaring that it begs mention. Why does the razzing only go from Bateman to the kids and only ONCE back? A "tit for tat" series of retaliations from the kids seem like an obvious way to go when writing this comedy. And the resolution, the "why" of it all is so mundane that it is almost a suprise.
Bateman can direct and he is certainly funny. But the film is a little too safe to be a new Bad Santa.