This blatantly exploitative little exercise is so cheesy, it's almost hard not to admire. From the first sight of cardboard fins <I>slowly</I> cleaving through the water, it's clear the budget went mostly into suntan lotion. The only problem is that the producers don't quite go far enough, interrupting with too much plot, an environmental message and even some romance.

Tapping into the spirit of Roger Corman and maybe even Ed Wood, this blatantly exploitative little exercise — positioned as it is in the midst of CBS’ NCAA tournament coverage — is so cheesy, it’s almost hard not to admire. From the first sight of cardboard fins slowly cleaving through the water (swim faster, guys!), it’s clear the budget went mostly into suntan lotion. The only problem, in fact, is that the producers don’t quite go far enough, interrupting the skin show and reverse fish buffet with too much plot, an environmental message and even (ick) some romance.

With the kind of title normally reserved for Troma Films or CBS’ sister cabler Showtime after midnight, “Spring Break” uses the traditional horror staple of comely coeds and splashes of gore, as well as the enduring maxim that wanton sexuality leads to certain death.

The plot hinges on Danielle (“The OC’s” Shannon Lucio) disobeying her overprotective parents and flitting down to meet friends at spring break in Florida (actually South Africa). Soon enough, she begins a flirtation with local kid Shane (Riley Smith), who operates fishing excursions along with his mom (Kathy Baker). Conveniently, Danielle also has a marine biologist brother (Wayne Thornley) working on an antishark system and two friends who look like they’re participating in the Miss Hawaiian Tropic tour.

Proving again that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature, an artificial reef designed to boost tourism has apparently contributed to making the sharks behave strangely, along with the shenanigans of a local businessman (Bryan Brown). For some reason, no one appears to notice that drunken college students keep disappearing until the climactic sequence, which might as well be called “Jaws: Less Than 2-D.”

Baker and Brown total about four minutes of screen time while the kids endeavor to save the day when not seducing each other. Still, director Paul Shapiro and writer James LaRosa deliver something of a cheat, what with the ecological poppycock and class-driven “Dirty Dancing” riff. Don’t bait guys with sex and violence and try to feed them Merchant Ivory stuff, dude.

Fortunately, the hilariously bad special effects save the day, as bodies disappear into volcanic eruptions of reddish water. “This can’t be real,” Danielle mutters at one point, proving that she has a future as a TV critic as well as a lingerie model.

At the very least, CBS deserves some credit for playing around with the Sunday movie franchise, which can only deliver so many melodramas and Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptations in a season — and certainly not after a day of NCAA hoops. Granted, a steady diet of “Spring Break” wouldn’t be good for anyone, but as the sharks discover, an occasional serving of oily coeds makes for a refreshing snack.

Spring Break: Shark Attack

CBS, March 20, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, by von Zerneck-Sertner Films. Executive producers, Frank von Zerneck, Robert M. Sertner, JJ Jamieson, David Wicht; co-executive producer, Randy Sutter; producers, Peter Sadowski, Leslie Belzberg; co-producer, Ted Babcock; director, Paul Shapiro; writer, James LaRosa.

Crew

Camera, Michael Brierly; production design, Birrie Le Roux; editor, Micky Blythe; music, Danny Lux; casting, Susan Glicksman, Ana Feyder. 120 MIN.

Cast

Danielle - Shannon Lucio Shane - Riley Smith J.T. - Justin Baldoni Karen - Bianca Lishansky Alicia - Genevieve Howard Charlie - Wayne Thornley Mary - Kathy Baker Joel Gately - Bryan Brown

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