Ask Cam Brady about them, and he might say they're a little-known breakfast entrée made from pork byproducts. Or maybe a board game involving letter tiles. Or, if you catch him on a really bad day, it's what his kids used to do with crayons. ("Hon! Jessica scrupled all over the refrigerator! Again!")
It's not like Cam has a lot of need to use the word—not in his line of work. As a professional politician whose most firmly held beliefs include the power of sound bites and the ethical integrity of well-coifed hair, Brady has as much use for the word scruples as he does for words like cacoethes ("an irresistible urge," according to dictionary.com) or brabble ("to argue stubbornly about trifles") or frigorific ("causing or producing cold"). He's a longtime congressman, after all—running unopposed for a fifth straight term. Clearly he's not needed them. Why shake things up?
But Cam's drive for another term takes a hit after he has a cacoethes to leave a sexually explicit phone message for his mistress. Alas, Cam misdials and sends the message to a family filled with Bible-loving voters. And despite Cam's attempt at damage control (he tells the media that only a small percentage of his calls are that vile and inappropriate), the incumbent suddenly looks vulnerable.
Enter the Motch brothers—two evil magnates who hope to buy up Cam's entire district and turn it over to the Chinese. They believe that, with Cam's campaign taking a frigorific turn, they have an opportunity to put up their own candidate. And once the puppet's in office, China will have a little bit of mainland America to call home.
They swiftly select Marty Huggins—an odd, kindly family man who loves his wife, adores his kids and dotes on his Chinese pug dogs. Sure, he's a flawed candidate: His hair isn't perfectly presentable, and he speaks with a rather effeminate lilt. But his pappy is rich and influential, and the Motches are sure that, with enough money and the right help, they'll be able to make the guy a contender.
In comes political operative Tim Wattley, who promptly forces Marty's wife to get a Katy Couric haircut, slaps a painting of a bald eagle over the fireplace and brings in a Labrador and golden retriever to serve as the family's pets. Marty's precious pugs? "Have them put down humanely," Tim suggests.
Welcome to the world of big-time, small-district politics, Marty. The prize awaits. And scruples? Well, you might as well put them out with the pugs.
Both Marty and Cam got into politics to help folks. Back when he was in fifth grade, Cam campaigned to get rid of a dangerous playground jungle gym. And while this is Marty's first foray into politics, he at first wants nothing but good for the people of Hammond.
The Campaign posits that our money-soaked political system (not the people trapped in it) is the most egregious villain—an arguable viewpoint that we won't brabble about here. But taking that worldview for what it is, we eventually see both Cam and Marty push against the corruption. Marty, after nearly sacrificing his family, his integrity and his inherent niceness for the sake of politics, later recants the moral compromises he's made. He returns to his old self and patches things up with his neglected wife—showing a great deal of forgiveness in the process.
After unintentionally teaching his son that politics is about "winning at all costs," Cam turns the tables and becomes a far better role model.
The Campaign is rife with often explicitly Christian references that devolve into slams and slurs. But for the most part, the film doesn't attack actual faith as much as it lampoons less-than-pious politicians who try to co-opt it for their own secular purposes.
Cam runs on a platform of "America. Jesus. Freedom." And while he admits he doesn't understand what that really means, he knows that "People sure love it when I say it." Marty points out that Cam hasn't been to church in nine months. And when Cam's forced to recite the Lord's Prayer during a debate, he turns it into a crass, blasphemous, offensive mess. He tries to spruce up his religious bona fides by singing in an African-American gospel choir and participating in a snake-handling service, but the latter takes a bad turn when he's bitten: He lets loose a series of colorful phrases which we're told had never before been uttered in the church. Cam tries to spin away from the controversy, declaring that the snake bite sucked all the impurities and blasphemies right out of him. He then breaks through a stained-glass window and winds up in a hospital, his arm swollen to the size of a tree trunk.
Marty, meanwhile, is a man of deeper beliefs. When he asks his family to fess up about any uncomfortable truths that might pop up during the campaign, his youngest son tells him that he once took the Lord's name in vain—a sin that bothers Marty a lot. But he's eager to reach out to folks of other faiths as well. We see him in a Jewish sanctuary, wearing what he calls a "Yamaha" for the first time.
The family that accidentally gets Cam's obscene phone message is shown praying before the answering machine clicks on—a cross hanging on a wall in the background. They decide not to answer the phone in order to give the time to Jesus. After they hear the message (which includes a reference to Cam and his mistress licking each other), the father of the house tells his children that Cam would certainly receive a tongue-lashing from Jesus—then clarifies his comment to make sure they know he wasn't saying Jesus would give Cam the same treatment Cam talked about.
Because Marty sports a mustache, Cam and his handlers suggest that he may be part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Marty responds to the accusation by saying that Jesus Christ—"the greatest American who ever lived"—also had facial hair. A candidate is shown shaking hands with Jesus on a billboard.
Cam begins his affair with his mistress, Shana, in a porta-potty. We see them from the shoulders up, obviously engaged in raucous sex. Cam's phone message to Shana is incredibly suggestive and descriptive. He also sends her—and his campaign manager—a picture of his penis (unseen by the audience).
When the public's made aware of his affair, Cam and his team try to turn it into a positive. They create a television commercial showing Shana in skimpy outfits and suggestive poses—stressing that Cam must be a real man to be involved with such a beauty.
Cam seduces Marty's wife, Mitzi, too. She rubs a popsicle around his nipples. And they wind up having sex in front of the freezer as Cam videotapes the whole thing. (We see the two engaged in the act, again from the shoulders up.) He then uses the episode in another campaign commercial (rated TV-MA, we see) that borders on porn. The final clip depicts Cam lying on the floor naked, his genitals pixelated.
Marty's brother's mistress greets Cam and Marty in a dress that's slipping down, revealing part of one of her nipples. Cam tells potential donors that if they give him $1 million, they can sleep with his wife. His wife, who's present, laughs, chiming in that for $1.5 million she'll throw in her cousin. The conversation devolves from there, culminating in Cam's admission that he had a brief homosexual fling in college.
We see a clip of a topless woman in a news story, her nipples covered by censor bars. We hear a variety of sexual confessions involving homosexuality, bestiality, incest, voyeurism, cross-dressing, porn and masturbation. One of Marty's boys says he once shaved the dog and pasted the hair onto his privates. Cam's kids listen to a very raunchy rap song at the dinner table.
Cam, aiming for Marty, accidentally punches a baby in the face. We see the blow land, a pacifier fly and, later, the baby's bruised face. A debate gets out of hand, with partisan attendees attacking one another with ferocity. Cam body slams Marty and, as he's trying to get in another good punch, accidentally hits Uggie, the dog from The Artist. We see a plastic bone hit the ground and, later, the pooch wearing a cone.
Marty shoots Cam in the leg. Blood flies and Cam writhes on the ground as Marty gets back in his campaign-mobile and drives away. Cam, driving while drunk, hits a cow. One of the Motch brothers admits to the other that he tried to kill him in his sleep.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 30 f-words and more than a dozen s-words foul the dialogue. We also hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and loads of crass, vulgar and obscene words for various body parts. We see a hoisted middle finger and hear an allusion to the c-word. God's name is misused more than a dozen times (eight or more times with "d‑‑n"); Jesus' name is abused thrice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters are shown drinking beer, wine, brandy, whisky and champagne, quite a bit of alcohol all told. In a moment of guilt, Cam drives to Marty's house to try to cull some of the nastiness out of the campaign—and drinks five or six glasses of liquor. He staggers to his car and drives away, only to be pulled over by police. After he's ordered to step out of the car, he runs away and eventually hops into the police cruiser, which he drives down the road until he hits that aforementioned cow.
Cam plies Mitzi with liquor, leading to their one-time affair. Tim, drunk, barges in on Marty's family when they're trying to have a fun night together, lambasting them for "playing Hee Haw" during a political campaign.
Cigars and cigarettes make appearances, and someone alludes to cocaine. One of Marty's employees admits to being "real high." Cam tells his wife that his affair with Shana was precipitated by Red Bull, Jell-O shots and Goldschläger, adding that he drank so much of the latter that he was defecating gold.
Other Negative Elements
A kid talks about how he stuck fireflies up his rear to make his flatulence light up. Marty's father pays his maid to speak like a 1930s African-American stereotype. Cam tries to bribe a cop.
The Campaign is a strange little movie—a weird mash-up of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Hangover. It offers a simple if not terribly original moral: It'd sure be nice if politicians stopped working so hard to get reelected and worked for us for a change. It tells us: Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't lose sight of who you are and who you should be.
But while the morals may be straight out of a kindergarten lesson planner, the movie itself should be legally barred from getting within 1,000 feet of any school—lest the young minds inside be unwittingly harmed.
"I am a great politician," Cam admits in the end, "but a horrible congressman." The sentiment might be applied, in a way, to The Campaign. Much like Cam, this film excels in bombastic raunch and outlandish excess. And while it drops a few cogent sound bites here and there, the overarching message is about as profound as Cam Brady's hair, as sincere as his commercials, as responsible as his sexual exploits.